'The Exorcist' director William Friedkin dies aged 87

Friedkin passed away in Los Angeles after suffering unspecified health issues


Oscar winning director William Friedkin has died aged 87, his representatives said on Monday.

Friedkin became a top filmmaker in his 30s with 1971 film The French Connection and The Exorcist, released in 1974. 

Marcia Franklin, his executive assistant for 24 years, announced the news on behalf of his family and wife, former studio head Sherry Lansing.

The French Connection, based on a true story, deals with the efforts of New York City police Detective James 'Popeye' Doyle to track down Frenchman Fernando Rey, mastermind of a large drug pipeline transporting heroin into the US.

Friedkin followed with an even bigger blockbuster, The Exorcist, based on William Peter Blatty's best-selling novel about a 12-year-old girl possessed by the devil.

The scenes of the girl's possession and a cast, including Linda Blair as the girl, Ellen Burstyn as her mother and Max Von Sydow and Jason Miller as the priests who try to exorcise the devil from her, helped make the film a box-office sensation. 

At the time, it was so scary that many viewers fled the cinema before it was over and some reported being unable to sleep for days afterward.

However, it received 10 Oscar nominations, including one for Friedkin as director, and won two, for Blatty's script and for sound. Friedkin won a best director Oscar for The French Connection.

After his success with both films, Friedkin went on to direct movies and TV shows well into the 21st century. However, he didn’t come close to matching the success of those early works.

Other film credits included To Live and Die in LA, Cruising, Rules of Engagement and a TV remake of the classic play and Sidney Lumet movie 12 Angry Men.

Friedkin was born in Chicago in August 1935 to Jewish immigrants from Ukraine.

His father, a clothing salesman, struggled to make a living. Meanwhile, his mother, an operating-room nurse, lost an eye in an accident involving a tray of surgical instruments.

Friedkin was brought up in Jewish and his parents observed all the holidays and always made Kosher food. 

Speaking about his faith in 2012, he said: “I don’t dispute the teachings of Moses, and I feel very close to God when I’m in Israel.  

“I’m a Jew, and that’s it. In my heart I believe completely in The Ten Commandments, but I also believe we are all imperfect and at times we just can’t cut it.”

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