Some sad news today. As you may have heard, Peter Benchley died yesterday from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis which causes fatal and progressive scarring of the lungs. He was only 65 years old.
You likely know him as the author of the novels, JAWS (if you’ve only seen the movies and haven’t read the book, I highly reccomend it–30 years after it’s first publishing, it’s still a great read), The Deep and The Island or as a shark conservationist working with National Geographic and other publications. I knew him not only as those things but also as a thoughtful, kind, brilliant man with a wicked sense of humor. I met Peter in Toronto when I was 24 years old and the assistant to the President of Atlantis Entertainment. He had signed on with the company to develop a television series about the survivors of a plane crash in the Amazon (this was long before the days of “Lost”). My boss and I had flown in for an all day brainstorming session, where I sat across the table from Mr. Benchley and a team of others, tossing ideas back and forth about possible characters, conflicts and story lines. It was a fantastic experience–one that I’ll never forget. After that, a friendship formed as I became the liason between Peter and my boss for the duration of the project. I was really disappointed when I wasn’t able to go to the Amazon with him, his beloved wife Wendy and several others for a research trip. It was however, 2 months before I was getting married and I was paranoid of getting bitten by a snake or getting some random disease that would prevent me from picture-perfect bridedom. In hindsight, giving up that experience for a white dress may not have been one of my best decisions although apparently, several people on that trip did end up getting sick. Always the gentleman though, Peter sent me 2 momenti from his Amazonian travels: a piranha and tribal necklace, both of which still hang framed in my office along with the note he included in the package. In the letter, after explaining the origin and meaning of both objects he closed with, “Further explanations provided free of charge. Yr Hmbl Svt, PB”. To this day, every time I glance up and see that note, his usage of silly abbreviations makes me smile.
Shortly after “Amazon” the series began airing, a big company merger took place and I lost my job a few months later. We lost touch not long after that and although I haven’t seen or spoken with him in 6 years I feel like knowing him, albiet briefly, was both an honor and a privilege.
Peter Benchley, thank you for all that you contributed to this world. Wherever you are, you’ll be missed.
Yr Hmbl Svt,