William Friedkin, director of ‘Exorcist,’ and ‘The French Connection,’ dead at 87

Aug 7, 2023, 2:00 PM | Updated: 3:00 pm


(CNN) — William Friedkin, director of iconic 1970s films including “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist,” has died, his wife Sherry Lansing, the former CEO of Paramount Pictures, told The Hollywood Reporter on Monday.

He was 87.

Friedkin won the Oscar for best director for “French Connection” in 1972, going on to be nominated for the same trophy again two years later for occult horror “Exorcist,” the genre-defying hit that racked up ten nominations and two statuettes.

Friedkin’s first directing credit came in 1965 with the TV movie “The Bold Men,” but it was 1970’s “The Boys in the Band” — still considered ahead of its time in terms of exploring gay themes in cinema — that began a golden age for the filmmaker.

Other notable titles in Friedkin’s oeuvre include 1980’s “Cruising,” starring Al Pacino, and “To Live and Die in L.A.” in 1985, with Willem Dafoe. He also directed 2006’s “Bug” with Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon and Harry Connick Jr., and “Rules of Engagement” from 2000, with Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson.

William Friedkin seated on a dolly camera

William Friedkin on the set of “The Exorcist” in 1973. (Warner Bros/Kobal/Shutterstock)

One of his less successful outings was “Jade,” starring David Caruso (fresh off “NYPD Blue”) and Linda Fiorentino, a notorious erotic-thriller flop in 1995.

Friedkin’s most recent work as a director was 2017’s “The Devil and Father Amort.” He also had one upcoming film yet to be released — “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial,” starring Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Clarke and Jake Lacy, according to his IMDb page.

As a testament to the lasting impact of Friedkin’s “Exorcist” – which was based on the novel by William Peter Blatty – the franchise is set to release a brand new installment this October, 50 years after the first film, featuring the return of the original movie’s star Ellen Burstyn.

Curiously, Friedkin once told Cinephilia Beyond that his original intention wasn’t even to make a horror film with “The Exorcist.”

“I recognize that audiences for generations have considered it a horror film,” he observed. “I won’t deny that, but when I set out to make it, the writer and I never had any concept of it as a horror film. We thought of it as a powerful, emotional, disturbing story.”

He also spoke to NPR on the occasion of “Exorcist’s” 40th anniversary in 2013, in which he revealed he was far from the first choice to direct the satanic possession story.

“That film, before it came to me, had been turned down by Stanley Kubrick, Arthur Penn and Mike Nichols. I was sort of the last man standing, and they made the decision shortly after I won the Academy Award for ‘The French Connection.’”

Friedkin was married four times – his was wed to celebrated French actress Jeanne Moreau, from 1977 to 1979; British actress Lesley-Anne Down from 1982 until 1985; broadcast journalist Kelly Lange from 1987-1990; and Hollywood film producer Lansing, to whom he was married from 1991 until his death.

He is survived by his wife, along with two sons, Jackson and Cedric Friedkin.

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William Friedkin, director of ‘Exorcist,’ and ‘The French Connection,’ dead at 87