Wednesday, July 17, 2024

William Friedkin, legendary director of The French Connection and The Exorcist, dies at 87

William Friedkin, legendary director of The French Connection and The Exorcist, dies at 87

The French Connection and The Exorcist director William Friedkin died in the city of Los Angeles at the age of 87.

William Friedkin, the Oscar-winning director behind The ExorcistThe French ConnectionTo Live and Die in L.A., The Boys in the Band, and more, is dead at 87. Friedkin died in Los Angeles, said his wife, former producer and studio head Sherry Lansing.

Born on August 29, 1935, in Chicago, Friedkin started directing television before disgusting audiences with projectile pea soup and dealings with demons. In the mid-’60s, Friedkin shot an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Hour and helmed various telefilms. Before the era was over, he got behind the camera for features like Good Times (1967), The Birthday Party (1968), and The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968).

He started the ’70s off with a band by directing The Boys in the Band. With his name already on the lips of executives everywhere, he moved on to The French Connection, a show-stopping thriller starring Gene Hackman as Detective Popeye Doyle. The French Connection won multiple Oscars, including the prize for Best Picture. Fueled by his monumental win at one of the industry’s most significant celebrations, Friedkin set his sights on a film that would scare the daylights out of moviegoers, The Exorcist.

The 1973 horror classic stars Linda Blair as Reagan MacNeil, a young girl possessed by a demon who compels two Catholic priests to question everything they know about their beliefs and occupation. In addition to winning the Best Picture prize at the Oscars, The Exorcist won the statues for Lead Actress Ellen Burstyn and screenwriter William Peter Blatty and Supporting nominations for Blair and Jason Miller.

The Exorcist is considered one of the scariest movies of all time by some horror buffs, and a restored version of the film is playing at the Venice Film Festival next month. Additionally, Ellen Burstyn is reprising her role in a remake, thanks to Blumhouse. Meanwhile, The Exorcist: Believer comes to theaters in October. David Gordon Green directs, with Burstyn, Jennifer Nettles, and Ann Dowd leading the cast.

The Exorcist is a project that never left Friedkin’s soul for long. One of his final projects, The Devil and Father Amorth, finds the director filming an honest-to-God exorcism. Friedkin loved capturing the juxtaposition between good and evil and sharing it with audiences worldwide.

Later, Friedkin directed Cruising, a controversial film the MPAA gave an X rating because of its graphic sex scenes. Disappointed by the organization’s prudish view, Friendkin lopped 40 minutes off the movie starring Al Pacino and Paul Sorvino to secure an R rating.

After helming To Live and Die in L.A., a thriller starring William Petersen and Willem Dafoe, Friedkin shot various music videos (including songs for Wang Chung and Barbra Streisand), 1990’s The Guardian, the Tales From the Crypt episode “On a Deadman’s Chest,” the sports drama Blue ChipsJade, and the 1998 MGM telefilm 12 Angry Men, starring Jack Lemmon, Courtney B. Vance, George C. Scott, Ossie Davis, James Gandolfini, Edward James Olmos, Tony Danza, Petersen, and others.

Like most filmmakers who find themselves passing on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for one reason or another, Friedkin did have regrets. “I’ve burned bridges and relationships to the point that I consider myself lucky to still be around. I never played by the rules, often to my own detriment. I’ve been rude, exercised bad judgment, squandered most of the gifts God gave me, and treated the love and friendship of others as I did Basquiat’s art and Prince’s music. When you are immune to the feelings of others, can you be a good father, a good husband, a good friend? Do I have regrets? You bet.” If nothing else, Friedkin’s words prove that even the most enigmatic of filmmakers can fall prey to their own ego and sometimes unwillingness to see the forest for the trees.

We here at JoBlo wish Mr. Friedkin’s family, friends, and fans peace and healing during this difficult time. To say we’re admirers of Friedkin’s work is an understatement, and we wish him safe travels to the Great Hereafter. We will cherish his cinematic gifts and remember how he helped challenge the industry and beyond.

Originally published at

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