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Legendary 'Jaws,' 'Child's Play' cinematographer Bill Butler dead at 101

The Oscar-nominated director of photography worked with some of Hollywood's greatest filmmakers.

By Matthew Jackson
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Wilmer C. "Bill" Butler, the legendary cinematographer whose work included JawsChild's PlayThe Conversation, and many more films and TV programs, died this week at the age of 101. The American Society of Cinematographers, who counted Butler as a senior member until his death, reported the news

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An Indiana native, Butler began his career in television in his home state, and was brought into the film world by future Exorcist and The French Connection director William Friedkin, who recruited Butler to shoot his documentary The People vs. Paul Crump in 1962. Five years later, he earned his first narrative feature credit thanks to another future legend, Philip Kaufman, who hired him to shoot a film called Fearless Frank. Two years later, Francis Ford Coppola worked with Butler for the first time, shooting The Rain People with the cinematographer.

Child's Play (1988)

Then came Steven Spielberg. The young director first worked with Butler in the early 1970s, when Butler shot TV movies like Something Evil and Savage with Spielberg. When Spielberg got the opportunity to direct Jaws, he brought Butler in as the director of photography, and still credits him not just for the film's look, but for holding the ship steady during the tumultuous production. 

“Bill Butler was the bedrock on that rickety, rocking boat called the Orca," Spielberg said in a statement to Deadline after Butler's passing. "He was the only calm in the middle of that storm, and as we went into a battle against nature and technology that wore both of us down, the audience eventually won the war. Bill’s outlook on life was pragmatic, philosophical and so very patient, and I owe him so much for his steadfast and creative contributions to the entire look of Jaws.”

The same year Jaws was released, 1975, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest also debuted, for which Butler was nominated for an Academy Award, and BAFTA, as one of the cinematographers. For three more decades, he continued working in TV and film, shooting numerous memorable and even iconic films including GreaseChild's PlayRocky IVStripesAnaconda, and Frailty to name just a few a few.

Butler is survived by his wife, Iris, and five daughters.