William Friedkin, the acclaimed director who helmed some of the most iconic movies of the 1970s, such as ‘The French Connection’ and ‘The Exorcist,’ died on Monday in Los Angeles at the age of 87.
Friedkin’s passing was confirmed by his wife, former producer and film studio chief Sherry Lansing, to industry outlet The Hollywood Reporter. His death comes just weeks before the premiere of his latest movie –and his first in more than 12 years– ‘The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial’ at the upcoming Venice Film Festival.
Chicago-native Friedkin was considered one of the foremost influences in a particularly fertile period of American filmmaking in the 1970s, which also included luminaries like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Stanley Kubrick.
He first gained prominence with the 1971 neo-noir classic ‘The French Connection,’ a genre-defining film about two New York City cops and their attempts to bust a French drug cartel. The film earned Friedkin an Academy Award for Best Director, as well as the year’s top Hollywood honor of Best Picture.
It has frequently been cited by the likes of Steven Spielberg and David Fincher as having a significant influence on their work.
Friedkin followed ‘The French Connection’ with another monstrous hit. His 1973 release ‘The Exorcist,’ the story of a priest attempting to help a young girl in the grips of a demonic possession, drew widespread acclaim and became the first horror film to ever be nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture.
Speaking several years after its release, Friedkin would note that he was “fired about five times” from what was an infamously troubled set – but once the movie was completed, it was instantly recognized as another classic. It went on to generate a worldwide box office of $425 million from a budget of just $12 million and is considered to be among the first in a new era of Hollywood “blockbusters.”
Friedkin’s influence trailed off in the latter part of his career. In 2015, he lamented in an interview about the degradation of Hollywood’s output towards big-budget superhero movies, as well as sequels to age-old film properties. “The whole idea of the art film, or experimental films, receiving an audience in theaters has virtually disappeared from the United States and so many other countries, except in fringe areas,” he said.
He added: “When I was growing up it was a staple of cinema.”
Friedkin is survived by his wife and two sons.