William Friedkin, the Oscar-winning director who became a top filmmaker in his 30s with the gripping The French Connection and the horrifying The Exorcist and struggled in the following decades to match his early success has died. He was 87.
Friedkin, who won the best director Oscar for The French Connection, died on Monday in Los Angeles, his wife, producer and former studio head Sherry Lansing told The Hollywood Reporter.
The movie, 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 contains one of the most thrilling chase scenes ever filmed.
The movie also won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Screenplay and Film Editing and led critics to hail Friedkin, then only 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.
It was so scary for its era that many viewers fled the theatre before it was over and some reported being unable to sleep for days afterward.
It received 10 Oscar nominations, including one for Friedkin as director, and won two, for Blatty’s script and for sound.
With that second success, Friedkin would go on to direct movies and TV shows well into the 21st century. But he would never again come close to matching the success of those early works.
Other film credits included To Live and Die in L.A., Cruising, Rules of Engagement and a TV remake of the classic play and Sidney Lumet movie 12 Angry Men.
Friedkin also directed episodes for such TV shows as The Twilight Zone, Rebel Highway and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.