William Friedkin, Director ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘French Connection,’ Dies at 87
Hollywood has lost one of 20th century’s most successful and acclaimed directors. William Friedkin, who helmed two all-time masterpieces — The Exorcist and The French Connection — and many more superb movies over the course of a remarkable career, has died. His passing was confirmed by Variety; no cause of death has been revealed as of this writing. Friedkin was 87 years old.
Born in Chicago in 1935, Friedkin took an interest in movies at a young age, and was already working television while he was still a teenager. He moved to Hollywood in the mid 1960s, and while his earliest efforts were largely flops — his feature directorial debut was the Sonny & Cher comedy Good Times — he broke through in 1971 with his gritty cop thriller The French Connection, which went on to win five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Gene Hackman, and Best Director for Friedkin himself. The film’s famous car chase, with Hackman’s Popeye Doyle racing through Brooklyn after an elevated subway train, remains widely regarded as one of the greatest chases in movie history.
Two years later, Friedkin had an even bigger smash with The Exorcist, adapting a William Peter Blatty novel into one of the most successful and iconic horror movies of all time. Amidst an enormously successful run in theaters, it became the first horror movie to be nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture. (It ultimately lost to the crime comedy The Sting.) The terrifying film, about a young girl possessed by a demon, popularized an entire horror sub-genre of exorcism movies, and launched a franchise that continues to this day; a new legacyquel to Friedkin’s original film, The Exorcist: Believer, is currently set for release in just a few months.
Friedkin never matched the critical and commercial success of The French Connection and The Exorcist back-to-back, but his career continued to this day, and he directed many other interesting and worthwhile films. His 1977 remake of the famous French thriller The Wages of Fear, called Sorcerer, was a costly flop at the time, but has since grown into a major cult favorite among ’70s film fans, with some saying it even outdoes the original French classic.
Friedkin’s later works include the controversial crime thriller Cruising, the acclaimed cop film To Live and Die in L.A., and the underrated college basketball exposé Blue Chips. His most recent feature film, Killer Joe, came out 2011, but prior to his death Friedkin completed work on one final feature, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, based on the famous novel and play. The film stars Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Clarke, and the late Lance Reddick, among others, and will premiere next month at the Venice Film Festival.
Regardless of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial’s reception, Friedkin already leaves behind some of the most beloved movies ever made; genre classics that will be watched as long as people watch any movies at all.