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  • Writer's pictureRob Binns

William Friedkin, Director of The Exorcist, Dies Aged 87

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

Goodbye, William Friedkin (29 August 1935 - 7 August 2023)

William Friedkin, pictured in 1977 on his wedding day, with his then-wife Jeanne Moreau

William Friedkin, pictured in 1977 on his wedding day, with his then-wife Jeanne Moreau.

Sad news, horror fans – the man behind the scariest film of all time has passed away, just 22 days shy of his 88th birthday. He is survived by his wife Sherry, his sons, and many friends and family – to them, Talking Terror offers its humble condolences.

Born on August 29, 1935, in Chicago, Illinois, William Friedkin was an American film director known for his eminent contributions to the film industry, particularly in the 1970s. Friedkin began his career in the entertainment industry as a television and documentary filmmaker before transitioning to directing feature films.

Raised in his native Chicago, Friedkin showed an early interest in the arts and developed a passion for filmmaking: attending various film schools and working as a stagehand and documentary filmmaker before making his move into feature films.

Friedkin gained widespread recognition and acclaim with his breakthrough film, The French Connection (1971). The crime thriller, starring Gene Hackman, won five Academy Awards: seeing Friedkin scoop up both Best Picture and Best Director. He followed up with another critical and commercial success – the one, I’m sure, us horror fans remain most grateful to him for – The Exorcist (1973).

Throughout his long and storied career, Friedkin was never shy to experiment with myriad genres and styles. He directed Sorcerer (1977), a tense thriller set in a South American jungle, as well as the controversial crime drama Cruising (1980) – an important film exploring the underground gay leather subculture. Moving through the 80s, Friedkin’s film To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) imbued classic crime drama with neo-noir elements, while Blue Chips (1994) tackled the world of college basketball.

While some of Friedkin's later films received mixed critical reception, he continued to explore, and challenge himself across, different genres: such as The Hunted (2003), Bug (2006), and – in my view, unmissable – Killer Joe (2011).

In 2020, Friedkin received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Film Festival, acknowledging his enduring impact on American cinema.

Ultimately, William Friedkin has left an indelible mark on cinema with his iconic films and contributions to various genres. His ability to create suspense, tension, and emotion on screen has solidified his place in the history of filmmaking. As for The Exorcist (1973) he created a film that no one – one way or the other – will forget.

Thanks for everything, William; rest in peace.


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