William Friedkin, who directed such iconic 1970s films as The French Connection and The Exorcist, has died in Los Angeles of heart failure and pneumonia. He was 87.
Friedkin was part of a new generation of directors who came to prominence in the Seventies, a list that included Hal Ashby, Peter Bogdanovich, and Francis Ford Coppola.
In his 2013 memoir The Friedkin Connection, he credited “fear and paranoia” as having been two “old friends” of his. His first major triumph, the hard-hitting police thriller The French Connection, was released in 1971. It won five Oscars, including one for Best Director and one for Best Picture.
Two years later, he directed The Exorcist, a movie on demonic possession that is still considered one of the greatest horror movies ever made. It earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Director.
His passing prompted an outpouring of tributes from the industry, including some actors he’d worked with over the years. Ellen Burstyn of The Exorcist said that “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.”
Addressing Friedkin’s legacy in a statement to Deadline, Jason Blum wrote: “More than any other filmmaker, he changed both the way directors approached horror films and also the perception of horror films in the broader culture. We are deeply saddened to hear of his passing and intensely grateful for the body of work he has left behind.”
Author Stephen King called Friedkin a “deeply talented filmmaker” whose real masterpiece he believes to be The Sorcerer, a lesser-known film from the late 1970s. And Mexican moviemaker Guillermo del Toro described Friedkin as “one of the Gods of Cinema” and a “dear, loyal and true friend.”
Among Friedkin’s other films were two that focused on an increasingly visible gay community: The Boys in the Band (about closeted men pre-Stonewall) and Cruising (about sexual promiscuity just before the era of AIDS). In 1977, he directed Sorcerer, which was not commercially successful but is now regarded highly by critics. Other of his films include To Live and Die in L.A., The Guardian, The Hunted, Jade, Rules of Engagement, The Bug, and Killer Joe.
Friedkin also directed episodes for television shows such as The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The Chicago-born director had originally been interested in documentaries, but shifted gears in the mid-1960s. Among his first features was Good Times, a 1967 movie about popular music that starred Sonny and Cher.
His final movie, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, will open later this month at the Venice Film Festival.
Friedkin is survived by his fourth wife, Sherry Lansing, and two sons. His wife chairs the Universal Music Group and had been chair and CEO of Paramount Pictures
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