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William Friedkin, Legendary Director Behind ‘The Exorcist,’ Passes Away at 87

By Jake Beardslee · August 7, 2023

William Friedkin at 2017 Sitges Film Festival. The Oscar-winning director, known for classics like The French Connection and The Exorcist, has died at age 87.  Guillem Medina/Wikimedia

William Friedkin, the Oscar-winning director behind classic films like The French Connection and The Exorcist, has died at the age of 87 in Los Angeles, according to his friend Stephen Galloway, a dean at Chapman University. Friedkin’s wife, Sherry Lansing, former Chair and CEO of Paramount Pictures, confirmed the news.

Friedkin had a remarkable career that spanned over five decades in Hollywood. He first rose to prominence after winning the Academy Award for Best Director for 1971’s The French Connection, beating out legendary directors like Stanley Kubrick and Peter Bogdanovich. The French Connection, which also took Best Picture, is considered one of the greatest crime thrillers in cinema history.

In 1973, Friedkin terrified audiences with The Exorcist, about a young girl possessed by a demon. With its haunting score and shocking visual effects, The Exorcist earned 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director for Friedkin. While he did not win, the film is considered one of the most influential horror movies ever made.

“I never considered myself the great American anything. Not then and not now. I consider myself just another member of the crew - the highest paid member of the crew,” Friedkin said humorously to the LA Times.

Over time, Friedkin’s filmmaking style fell out of favor in Hollywood, causing his career to decline in the 1980s and 90s. He kept his rebellious spirit throughout. Friedkin once said that his own ego contributed to his loss of status and influence in the industry. But he harbored no resentment about his career in later years, stating in his autobiography, “I haven’t made my Citizen Kane, but there’s more work to do. I don’t know how much, but I’m loving it.”

In his later career, Friedkin directed several other suspenseful films like Sorcerer, To Live and Die in L.A., and Bug. He also made the 2017 documentary The Devil and Father Amorth about real-life exorcisms. Friedkin’s final film, an adaptation of the play The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, is set to premiere at the Venice Film Festival, where he was honored with a lifetime achievement award in 2013.

With his thrilling visual style and mastery of tension, Friedkin created pulse-pounding films that changed Hollywood and pushed the boundaries of the medium.

Light Wave commentary

The passing of William Friedkin marks the end of an era in Hollywood filmmaking. With movies like The French Connection and The Exorcist, Friedkin established himself as one of the most talented and audacious directors of the 1970s New Hollywood era. His ability to craft tense, gritty thrillers with a raw, documentary-like feel revolutionized the crime and horror genres and influenced generations of directors.