Peter Benchley, best known for the 1974 novel "Jaws," died Sunday at his home in Princeton, N.J., at the age of 65.

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The cause of death was pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive scarring of the lungs, said Benchley's wife, Wendy.

"Jaws" went from blockbuster publishing event to blockbuster Hollywood movie, when director Steven Spielberg's 1975 film adaptation shattered box-office records and helped usher in the modern movie blockbuster era.

Even before the movie was released, Benchley's book terrified millions of readers -- many who refused to go in the water for fear of shark attack. And even before it was published, Benchley's first novel was a sensation as word spread through the publishing business that a blockbuster story was in the pipeline, the New York Times reported.

Benchley came in for criticism from naturalist Jacques Cousteau, and later said he regretted making the great white shark a villain, the Times said. He became an active conservationist -- serving as a spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund and working with WildAid, teaching about sharks and cautioning against the killing of sharks for their fins.

In addition to his wife, Benchley is survived by a brother, Nathaniel; three children, and five grandchildren.