Roger Kastel, the celebrated artist known for his extraordinary works including the iconic shark and swimmer painting used for the paperback cover of Peter Benchley’s Jaws and made popular by the 1975 Steven Spielberg film, has passed away at the age of 92. Kastel died of kidney and heart failure on November 8, according to his wife Grace.
In addition to his renowned Jaws artwork, Kastel created striking posters for other notable films such as The Empire Strikes Back, The Great Train Robbery, and Doctor Faustus.
For Jaws, Kastel’s powerful oil painting was created after he visited the American Museum of Natural History in New York to photograph a great white shark, which he later incorporated into his masterpiece. His attention to detail in capturing the menacing nature of the shark and the vulnerable swimmer made his artwork instantly recognizable and iconic.
Kastel’s adaptation of the female swimmer in his painting, based on photos taken from a Good Housekeeping shoot, led to the controversial removal of the swimmer’s bathing suit from the original cover, causing the book to be banned in some cities. This decision resulted in one of the most impactful and recognizable book covers of all time.
Despite his incredible talent, Oscar Dystel, the chief of Bantam Books, gave away Kastel’s image to Universal Studios for free, causing the artist to lose out on millions of dollars. However, his work quickly became iconic, inspiring various interpretations in political cartoons and media to represent different societal and political issues.
Kastel, born in White Plains, New York, in 1931, made significant contributions to the illustration world, working with various publishing houses and producing memorable cover art for books by notable authors such as John Steinbeck, H.G. Wells, and Jackie Collins.
His passing is mourned by his wife, children, grandchildren, and great-grandson. In honor of his memory, donations can be made to The Artists’ Fellowship. Roger Kastel’s exceptional legacy as an artist will continue to inspire and captivate audiences for generations to come.