Peter Benchley, the author of 'Jaws', dies aged 65

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The Independent Culture

The man who turned the great white shark into an icon of terror - with a little help from Steven Spielberg, who directed the blockbuster movie of his book - succumbed to pulmonary fibrosis at his home in New Jersey over the weekend.

Benchley spent his latter years campaigning for the conservation of great whites and other sharks and acknowledged the source of his greatest success had been based more on sensationalism than science. "Knowing what I know now, I could never write that book today," he wrote a fortnight ago. "Sharks don't target human beings, and they certainly don't hold grudges."

Benchley was a freelance writer before mentioning over lunch with an editor that he fancied writing a novel about a shark terrorising a holiday resort. It was a publishing sensation, with film rights sold before the book was out.

Nobody pretended it was great literature, but it resonated with a generation of Americans whose unprecedented affluence could not conceal lurking fears, both rational and irrational. "If I were to be elected pope or if I cured cancer, still, at my funeral, should anybody care, they'll play, 'Duh dum, duh dum'," he said. "My legacy will, no matter what, be Jaws. I hope there will be at least the acknowledgment that I spent my time working for the oceans and trying to protect them."