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William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist and The French Connection, dies

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William Friedkin, who directed the classic movies The Exorcist and The French Connection, has died aged 87.

His wife, producer and former studio head Sherry Lansing, said he died in LA earlier today, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The Oscar-winning director was seen as one of the most influential filmmakers of his generation and was part of the “New Hollywood” movement in cinema in the 1970s.

Friedkin was nominated for an Oscar for his 1973 supernatural horror film The Exorcist – one of the most iconic films in the history of cinema.

The film was 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 helped make it a box-office sensation.

It wasn’t unusual to hear of viewers who were so scared they fled the cinema before it was over and some reported being unable to sleep for days afterwards.

It received 10 Oscar nominations, including one for Friedkin as director, and won two, for Blatty’s script and for sound.

William Friedkin on the set of The Exorcist with Linda Blair - who played the film's central character
Image:
William Friedkin on the set of The Exorcist with Linda Blair – who played the film’s central character

Friedkin had already won a best director Oscar for his 1971 crime thriller The French Connection.

The film was based on a true story and followed the efforts of maverick New York City detective James “Popeye” Doyle as he tried to track down Fernando Rey – the mastermind of a large drug pipeline funnelling heroin into the United States.

It contains one of the most famous chase scenes ever filmed.

The movie also won Oscars for best picture, screenplay and film editing.

It led critics to hail Friedkin, then just 32, as a leading member of a new generation of filmmakers.

William Friedkin directed The Exorcist and The French Connection. Pic: AP
Image:
William Friedkin directed The Exorcist and The French Connection. Pic: AP

Friedkin would go on to direct movies and TV shows well into the 21st century.

However, he would never again come close to matching the success of those early works.

Other film credits included To Live And Die In LA, Cruising, Rules of Engagement, and a TV remake of the classic play and Sidney Lumet movie 12 Angry Men.

He also directed episodes for such TV shows as The Twilight Zone, Rebel Highway and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

Friedkin had started out his career in local television and documentary projects before moving to feature films.

He made his movie debut with the Sonny & Cher film Good Times in 1967.

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William Friedkin, left, with Gene Hackman, second from right, on the set of The French Connection
Image:
William Friedkin, left, with Gene Hackman, second from right, on the set of The French Connection

Three years later, he directed “The Boys in the Band,” an LGBTQ cinema landmark about a group of gay friends in Manhattan.

Friedkin married his most recent wife Sherry Lansing in 1991.

He was earlier married to the journalist Kelly Lange, the British actress Lesley-Anne Down and the French actress Jeanne Moreau.

Friedkin leaves behind two sons – Jackson Friedkin, from his marriage to Down, and Cedric Friedkin – whose mother is the Australian dancer Jennifer Nairn-Smith.

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