Moviegoers fainted, others threw up: That's how horrifying were the scenes in which two priests try to drive the devil out of little Regan, played by Linda Blair. The horror film "The Exorcist" shocked moviegoers worldwide. Critics called it the "scariest movie of all time".
William Friedkin was the directing talent behind the 1973 occult shocker. Now the film world is mourning the award-winning director, screenwriter and producer. The American died at the age of 87, as his wife Sherry Lansing confirmed to the "Hollywood Reporter", among others.
"The Exorcist" was nominated for ten awards at the 1974 Academy Awards, including director and actresses Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn. For the first time ever, a horror film also had a chance in the top "Best Film" category. In the end, "The Exorcist" won the Oscars for best screenplay and best sound.
Friedkin was already on the road to success in Hollywood. Two years earlier, just 36 years old, the newcomer triumphed on the Oscar stage. In 1972 he received the director's Oscar for the gripping drug thriller "The French Connection - Brennpunkt Brooklyn".
He sent Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider through the streets of New York as brutal narcotics officers. Friedkin wrote film history with a spectacular chase. There were five Oscars in all, including Best Picture and Lead Actor Hackman.
Friedkin quickly rose to the ranks of the "New Hollywood" elite in the 1970s. It included star directors such as Peter Bogdanovich, Roman Polanski, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. Back then, he and colleagues like Coppola talked about art, not about profit at the box office, he said in a 2015 interview with the cinema portal Deadline.com.
But a few years later, Friedkin turned down his declared favorite film "Breathless with Fear". He shot the adventure thriller with Roy Scheider in the jungle under difficult conditions. Four men undertake a hell of a ride there with old trucks and a load of explosives. After numerous mishaps and delays, the film hit theaters in 1977, a month after Star Wars premiered. Friedkin had no chance against George Lucas' star spectacle, "Breathless with Fear" was a flop at the box office.
He made other thrillers: "Cruising" (1980) about a series of murders among gays in New York, the erotic thriller "Jade" (1995), the murder mystery "The Huntsman's Hour" (2002).
He was no longer able to build on his early successes, but the admiration of colleagues and fans remained. For the documentary "Friedkin Uncut" (2018), the Italian director Francesco Zippel was able to find well-known companions who praised Friedkin's work, including Francis Ford Coppola, Quentin Tarantino, Willem Dafoe and Matthew McConaughey.
"Pulp Fiction" director Tarantino was just ten years old when "The Exorcist" shook the cinema world. The Oscar winner is a declared fan of the horror film. "No one had ever seen anything like it," he enthuses in the documentary. "That blew everyone away."
Friedkin liked to pose as an uncompromising filmmaker who loved extremes and survived the ups and downs of the film business. He shoots each scene only once, he boasted in an interview in the documentary "Friedkin Uncut": "Rehearsals are for sissies."
Born in Chicago in 1935, the working-class son worked at a television station from messenger to director of live TV shows. He wanted to be a filmmaker after seeing the Orson Welles classic Citizen Kane as a young man. His first documentary about a man sentenced to death won a festival prize in 1962. He made his Hollywood debut in 1967 with the musical film "Good Times" about the pop duo Sonny and Cher.
He was married to French actress Jeanne Moreau for two years in the 1970s. After marriages to TV star Lesley-Anne Down and presenter Kelly Lange, he tied the knot with producer Sherry Lansing in 1991. He was married to the powerful ex-boss of the Hollywood studio Paramount until his death.