William Friedkin, Director of ‘French Connection’ and ‘Exorcist,’ Dies at 87

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William Friedkin, the renowned filmmaker known for his gritty and visceral style, as well as his fascination with characters on the edge, passed away on Monday at the age of 87. He died at his home in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles due to heart failure and pneumonia. His wife, Sherry Lansing, the former head of Paramount Pictures, confirmed the news.

Friedkin began his career as a promising but relatively unknown director with a background in documentary film. He gained recognition when he collaborated with producer Philip D’Antoni to create “The French Connection” in 1971. The film, based on the true story of two New York City police officers who broke up a heroin-trafficking ring, became a box-office hit. Starring Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, it won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

In 1973, Friedkin followed up with another iconic film, “The Exorcist,” based on the best-selling horror novel by William Peter Blatty. The film, which explored the demonic possession of a young girl, shocked audiences with its terrifying imagery and groundbreaking special effects. It became one of the highest-grossing movies of all time and was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.

Friedkin’s impact on the film industry extended beyond his own works. “The French Connection” injected realism and violence into the crime genre, influencing films like the “Dirty Harry” series and TV shows like “Hill Street Blues.” Meanwhile, “The Exorcist” challenged popular perceptions of horror films, paving the way for more sophisticated and profitable movies in the genre.

Born in Chicago in 1935 to Jewish parents who had immigrated from Ukraine, Friedkin began his career in television before transitioning to documentary filmmaking. His use of portable cameras influenced his distinctive style, characterized by kinetic movement and immersive storytelling.

Friedkin’s career had its ups and downs, with successes like “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist” followed by less successful films such as “Sorcerer” (1977) and “Cruising” (1980). However, his impact on cinema remained undeniable.

Throughout his life, Friedkin was married to Sherry Lansing, a prominent figure in the film industry. The couple tied the knot in 1991. Lansing, who served as the head of Paramount Pictures, collaborated with Friedkin on several projects.

William Friedkin will be remembered as a groundbreaking filmmaker who pushed the boundaries of storytelling and visual style. His films continue to resonate with audiences and influence filmmakers to this day.

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