Director William Friedkin, best known for films like The Exorcist and The French Connection, died this week at the age of 87. His death was confirmed by Chapman University dean Stephen Galloway, a friend of Friedkin’s wife, producer Sherry Lansing.
Friedkin came to prominence in the 1970s as part of the new wave of young Hollywood filmmakers working outside of the recently-defunct studio system. Beginning his career in documentaries in the early 1960s, such as The People vs. Paul Crump, he made the leap to film in 1967 with the Sonny and Cher musical Good Times. In 1970, he directed The Boys in the Band, one of the first mainstream American films of the era to revolve around a mostly gay cast (it’s also frequently cited as the first mainstream American movie to use the word ‘c*nt’, which would be an extremely Friedkin thing, if true.)
His breakout came the following year with The French Connection, one of the true thriller masterpieces of the era and a major commercial hit that earned him his Best Director Oscar. Perhaps his most iconic film is 1973’s The Exorcist, the horror film that remains one of the most influential and terrifying examples of the genre ever committed to celluloid. It’s still one of the most controversial American films of the ’70s, and was banned or restricted in several countries.
After the massive success of The Exorcist, Friedkin made Sorcerer, a remake of The Wages of Fear that was initially deemed a step down for the director and a big commercial flop. Since then, it’s been given a long-overdue reassessment and been lauded as an overlooked masterpiece of the time (it really is excellent.)
Over the decades, Friedkin continued to make films that pushed boundaries and created controversy. 1980’s Cruising, a thriller about a cop who goes undercover in New York’s gay scene to solve a murder, remains divisive among viewers, especially LGBTQ+ ones, even as it’s been cited as an inspiration by the likes of Quentin Tarantino and the Safdie brothers. He adapted two Tracy Letts plays for the scree, Bug and Killer Joe, which allowed him to delve into new seedy territory and prove his capacity to surprise audiences well into his 70s. His final film, an adaptation of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, will have its world premiere at this year’s Venice International Film Festival.
RIP William Friedkin, 1935 - 2023. A legend among filmmakers. pic.twitter.com/Uw2pBaQuPG— Little White Lies (@LWLies) August 7, 2023
rip william friedkin. his hard-nosed, iconoclastic, lurid creations were matched only by his own brilliantly confrontational disposition. he leaves behind one of the most rewarding filmographies i've had the pleasure of watching. truly singular & one of the best to ever do it. pic.twitter.com/ZFTvU937Dj— Hit Factory Podcast (@HitFactoryPod) August 7, 2023
there will never be another William Friedkin — he was the definition of an iconoclast, told it like it was and was decidedly stubborn down to the bitter end— Justin LaLiberty (@jlalibs) August 7, 2023
he leaves behind a career of great films, even a few bonafide masterpieces, but also a lot of perfect interviews
When working on the Mr. Plow show, we heard that William Friedkin was a fan of @TheSimpsons. So we put in a parody of his film SORCERER just for him. Years later he visited the show, charmed everyone, and even wound up as a guest star. RIP a great guy. pic.twitter.com/fTH8etohEy— Mike Reiss (@MikeReissWriter) August 7, 2023
Rest in peace to William Friedkin, an absolute titan of not only our particular genre, but of cinema itself. Well done, sir. pic.twitter.com/QNhaR3Lbnx— FANGORIA (@FANGORIA) August 7, 2023