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

Oscar-winning director was also best known for films including ‘Killer Joe’, ‘Cruising’ and ‘To Live and Die in LA’

Inga Parkel
Monday 07 August 2023 20:52 BST
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William Friedkin, director of ‘The Exorcist,’ dead at 87

American director William Friedkin, best known for films including The Exorcist and The French Connection, has died aged 87.

The news was confirmed on Monday (7 August) by Chapman University Dean Stephen Galloway, a friend of Friedkin’s wife Sherry Lansing, according to Variety.

He died of heart failure and pneumonia in his Los Angeles home, the New York Times reported.

Friedkin was born in Chicago, Illinois, on 29 August 1935. He began his career in the Sixties with the comedy musical Good Times (1967), starring Sonny and Cher.

Several movies later, he won a Best Director Oscar for his 1971 classic, The French Connection.

Gene Hackman and the late Roy Scheider led the acclaimed detective drama as a pair of investigators who have to chase down a French heroin smuggler.

It was during the Seventies that Friedkin became synonymous with “New Hollywood”, a catch-all term for a cluster of young, risk-taking and genre-defying filmmakers who upended American cinema. Others included Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen and Steven Spielberg.

In 1973, Friedkin released The Exorcist, which earned $500m worldwide at the box office.

The Exorcist is based on William Peter Blatty’s best-selling novel of the same name, and stars Linda Blair as a young girl whose mother seeks medical help after her daughter starts displaying oddities, such as levitating and speaking in tongues.

Director William Friedkin

The horror thriller landed him his second directing Oscar nomination.

Friedkin’s other credits included the South America thriller Sorcerer (1977), starring Roy Schneider, the gay serial killer mystery Cruising (1980), starring Al Pacino, and the 1985 neo-noir To Live and Die in LA, starring William Petersen and Willem Dafoe.

He later married studio head Lansing in 1991, followed by a creative fallow period that included the maligned erotic thriller Jade (1995) and the legal drama Rules of Engagement (2000), starring Samuel L Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones.

A later career revival occurred with the apocalyptic thriller Bug (2006), starring Ashley Judd, and Killer Joe in 2011, a swampy psychological drama starring Matthew McConaughey. Both were adaptations of plays by Tracy Letts.

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Before his death, Friedkin had completed production on the legal drama The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, which is expected to release in 2023 and stars Kiefer Sutherland.

In a 2012 interview with The Independent, Friedkin humbly said: “I don’t see myself as a pioneer. I see myself as a working guy and that’s all, and that is enough.”

He is survived by his fourth wife Lansing, and his two sons, one of whom he shared with his second wife, British actor Lesley-Anne Down, and the other with his former fiancée, Australian dancer Jennifer Nairn-Smith.

Friedkin was previously married to newscaster Kelly Lange from 1987 to 1990 and the late French actor Jeanne Moreau from 1977 to 1979.

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