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SYFY WIRE The Exorcist

William Friedkin, Legendary Director of The Exorcist, Dies at 87

The director of classics like The Exorcist and The French Connection has left us.

By Matthew Jackson
William Friedkin

William Friedkin, the Oscar-winning filmmaker who directed 1970s classics like The French Connection and The Exorcist, among many others, died Monday in Los Angeles, Variety reported. A family friend confirmed the news through Friedkin's wife, producer Sherry Lansing. Friedkin was '87. 

A product of the often antiestablishment New Hollywood movement of the 1970s, Friedkin combined fierce technical ability with a curiosity for a wide variety of subject matter and a passion for blending thoughtful dramatic storytelling with genre conventions, creating landmark films as a result. A native of Chicago, he started his career working in television, eventually moving into a position as a Live TV director before working on documentaries, episodes of Alfred Hitchcock's anthology series, and eventually feature films. 

Though his early films didn't make much of a mark at the time, Friedkin spent years building the knowledge and skill he needed to eventually deliver some of the best movies of the 1970s. After directing films like Good Times and The Boys in the Band, he broke through in 1971 with The French Connection, a based-on-a-true-story crime film about a pair of detectives chasing after a drug kingpin. Marked by the intense setpieces and moral gray areas that would define his style for many viewers, the film won Friedkin an Academy Award for Best Director, and earned four more Oscars along the way, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Gene Hackman. The film's success meant that Friedkin had the chance to go after even bigger projects, and it turns out he wasn't yet done making masterpieces.

RELATED: Was The Exorcist Cursed?

Linda Blair and William Friedkin on set of The Exorcist (1973).

In 1973, Friedkin released The Exorcist, the demonic possession tale based on William Peter Blatty's novel of the same name. Often called the scariest movie ever made, it was an immediate pop culture phenomenon, inspiring reports of fainting and fleeing from the theater at screenings and going on to become the highest-grossing R-rated horror film of all time, a record it held for decades. The Exorcist was also nominated for 10 Oscars, winning two for Best Adapted Screenplay (by Blatty himself) and Best Sound for its groundbreaking horror soundscapes.

Even now, five decades later, The Exorcist casts the longest shadow over Friedkin's career, but it was by no means his last great film. He continued working for the rest of his life, producing classics like the thriller Sorcerer, the cop action-drama To Live and Die in LA, the horror film Bug, and the crime black comedy Killer Joe, to name just a few. His final film, an adaptation of Herman Wouk's play The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, is set to premiere in Venice next month, which means we still haven't seen the last of his work. 

Friedkin is survived by his wife, Sherry Lansing, and two sons. We wish them the best in this difficult time, and express our thanks to Friedkin for decades of great cinema. 

Did William Friedkin direct the original Exorcist sequels?

No, Friedkin only directed the first Exorcist film. John Boorman directed the 1979 sequel Exorcist II: The Heretic, and original book author William Peter Blatty directed 1990's The Exorcist III. Of course, David Gordon Green is directing new sequel The Exorcist: Believer. 

The Exorcist franchise is back in the zeitgeist this year ahead of the release of Green's The Exorcist: Believer, which aims to pick up the story all these decades after Friedkin's original Exorcist film. The sequel finds two young girls in a synchronized possession, and is set for release October 13.

Is William Friedkin involved in The Exorcist: Believer?

No, Friedkin is not involved in the new Exorcist film series from David Gordon Green, though the new film is set in the same continuity as Friedkin's original film.