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

7 August 2023, 20:18 | Updated: 7 August 2023, 21:55

The Exorcist director William Friedkin has died aged 87
The Exorcist director William Friedkin has died aged 87. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

The Exorcist director William Friedkin has died aged 87.

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Friedkin, who also won the best director Academy Award for The French Connection, died on Monday in Los Angeles, Sherry Lansing, his wife, producer and former studio head, told The Hollywood Reporter.

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

It contained one of the most famous chase scenes ever filmed.

The movie also won Academy Awards for best picture, screenplay and film editing and led critics to hail Friedkin, then just 32, as a leading member of a new generation of filmmakers.

He 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 harrowing scenes of the girl's possession and a splendid 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.

His latest work - The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial - was due to hit screens at the Venice Film Festival beginning August 30.

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Friedkin in action
Friedkin in action. Picture: Alamy

Friedkin started out his career in local television and documentary projects and then moved on to feature films.

He made his film debut with the Sonny & Cher film Good Times in 1967.

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 also directed episodes for TV shows such as The Twilight Zone, Rebel Highway and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

Tributes poured in for the director, with actor Elijah Wood saying: "Aww man…a true cinematic master whose influence will continue to extend forever. So long, William Friedkin."

The Exorcist star Ellen Burstyn said in a statement: "My friend Bill Friedkin was an original; smart, cultured, fearless and wildly talented.

"On the set, he knew what he wanted, would go to any length to get it and was able to let it go if he saw something better happening. He was undoubtedly a genius."