Actress Lee Fierro, best known for her role as the grieving Mrs. Kintner in Steven Spielberg‘s 1975 horror, Jaws, died on Sunday from complications caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). She was 91.
Kevin Ryan, artistic director and board president for Island Theatre Workshop — where Fierro worked for more than 40 years during her time at Martha’s Vineyard — confirmed the news with Martha’s Vineyard Times and Entertainment Tonight.
“We will miss her terribly. She spent 40 years here on the vineyard,” Ryan told ET. “I’ve been working with her for 30 years here [on Marthas’s Vineyard] and three years since she moved [to Ohio].”
Fierro, a theatrically trained actress, had been a longtime Martha’s Vineyard resident where Ryan said she taught and mentored more than 1,000 children in the art of theater. At the time of her death, she was living in Ohio at an assisted living facility after her family moved her in 2017 so she could be closer to them.
“The one word I would think of when I think of Lee is dedication. I’ve watched her as a performer, director and businesswoman and then we became friends. She was my teacher and mentor,” Ryan told the Times. “I would still call Lee for artistic discussion and commentary. She was fiercely dedicated to the mission of teaching. She, no matter what it was, would stay at it and get the job done.”
Universal/Alamy Lee Fierro, Jaws
MJ Munafo, the artistic director at Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse in Vineyard Haven, said Fierro “was an inspiration.”
“She was a huge presence on the Island theater community. She worked with hundreds of young people who just adored her,” Munafo told the outlet.
In Spielberg’s classic, Fierro portrayed Mrs. Kintner, the mourning mother of Alex Kintner (Jeffrey Voorhees), who was the second victim of the killer great white shark.
Kintner famously walked up to Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) in the film and slapped him across the face for failing to let the community know about a previous shark attack in the beach town.
“I just found out that a girl got killed here last week and you knew, you knew there was a shark out there. You knew it was dangerous, but you let people go swimming anyway,” she said in the iconic scene. “You knew all those things and still my boy is dead now, and there’s nothing you can do about it. My boy is dead. I wanted you to know that.”
Nicki Galland, one of Fierro’s former students, told the Times that Fierro found it funny that she became famous for that scene.
“She was tickled by it. She found it really entertaining,” Galland said. “She would say, ‘If you told me that’s what I’d be known for, I wouldn’t believe it.’ She had no screen training. She trained as a theater actor.”
Galland then remembered a story Fierro would tell about being scolded by Spielberg for being too dramatic in one of her scene exits in the film. “Lee, you’re not on Broadway, tone it down. Tone it down,” Galland said of Fierro recalling her on-screen experience.
Fierro is survived by her five children, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. According to the Times, a small service is being planned by the family in Ohio. However, when it’s possible following the pandemic, there will also be a memorial service on Martha’s Vineyard.
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