When we hear the name William Friedkin, many of us immediately think of 1973’s The Exorcist (Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn). Friedkin, who turns 82 years old on August 29, 2017, is the director of what is thought to be one of, if not the best, horror film of all time. Friedkin’s vision for the adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s eponymous novel was truly ground breaking. William Friedkin was, and still is, capable of capturing the visualization of our fears, and the result is polarizing.
Born in 1935, in Chicago, Illinois, Friedkin was the son of lower-middle class immigrants who fled Ukraine during the worst of times. The future director/producer developed a passion for films in his teen years through such cinematic ventures as Psycho and Les Diabolique. Clearly, William Friedkin has a passion for thrillers and horror.
After graduating high school (not due to his grades) at the tender age of 16, he delved into the movie world and began directing television shows and documentaries at age 18. Friedkin, alongside Bill Butler, directed and released The People vs Paul (1962) which went on to win big at the San Francisco International Film Festival that year. Upon viewing Citizen Kane at age 25, Friedkin became convinced a future in directing was his destiny and set out to follow that through. He even directed the last episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, an episode entitled “Off Season,” and it received mixed reviews.
In 1971, Friedkin’s The French Connection was released to much critical acclaim and won many Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Gene Hackman, and Best Director for himself. In fact, the crime-thriller, adapted from Robin Moore’s 1969 novel of the same name, went on to be listed twice by the American Film Institute as one of the best American films ever made. Of course, a few years later in 1973 came the epic The Exorcist also went on to win Best Screenplay at the Academy Awards. The film is still considered to be one of the most terrifying movies of all time, as well as a film that can scare the living bejesus out of many viewers, as seen below.
These accomplishments cemented Friedkin’s position as one of the biggest and most important directors in Hollywood during the 1970s. One of Friedkin’s films, Sorcerer, was released in 1977 and did not fare as well at the box office (the film was released just a week after the mega-blockbuster Star Wars). This disappointed him greatly as he considered it his best film to date.
In the 1980s, Friedkin, unfortunately, suffered a massive heart attack, which he thankfully survived. After months of rehabilitation, he went on to direct and produce many movies that received up and down reviews. Some fared better than others, including the 1985 action movie To Live and Die in L.A. starring William Dafoe and William Peterson.
He continues to direct and produce to this day. His last movie was Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey) released in 2011. On August 31, 2017, an interesting documentary directed by him will be released entitled The Devil and Father Amorth, that details the 9th exorcism performed by Father Amorth. Perhaps the talented director has not exhausted his interest in the heavy subject of possession just yet.
William Friedkin’s directing and producing career has been quite long and remains ongoing as we celebrate his 82nd birthday. With no end in sight, we continue to receive exciting projects from him. One of my personal favorites is Bug (2006), a film where the viewer almost feels a part of the mental downward spiral suffered by Agnes (Ashley Judd) and Peter (Michael Shannon). How is it possible that a director can instill such uneasy excitement throughout an entire feature film? That is the mastery of William Friedkin.
I first viewed The Exorcist when I was 8 years old and I was left immobile, haunted by the images for years to come. With many movies in between and 33 years after the film’s initial release, I felt the same way after viewing the uncomfortable Bug. Friedkin is able to put a face on our fears easily, while creating havoc from simple concepts using organic and creative means.
Interesting Facts about William Friedkin:
- He is a Virgo
- He directed a musical with Sonny and Cher in 1967, entitled Good Times
- He hates the sequels to The Exorcist
- Friedkin and I share a birthday… just saying
- In high school, he played basketball so well, he considered becoming a professional
- He was scolded by Alfred Hitchcock for not wearing a tie while he was directing
William Friedkin is also the father of 2, Cedric (1976) and Jack (1983). Having been married previously 3 times, he remains happily married to wife number 4, Sherry Lansing. What a full and beautiful life he has led. He inspires us all to follow our dreams and reminds us that anything is possible. Happy birthday, William Friedkin. To truly fit all of his work and accomplishments into this article would take a lifetime. If you are truly curious, a memoir entitled The Friedkin Connection was released in 2013. We certainly hope there are many more spooky and thrilling years to come, and we thank you so much for your commitment to creating interesting movies and never slowing down.