Director William Friedkin, best known for his Oscar-winning film “The French Connection” and the blockbuster “The Exorcist,” passed away Monday in Los Angeles. He was 87.

His death was confirmed by Chapman University dean Stephen Galloway, a friend of Friedkin’s wife, Sherry Lansing.

Alongside Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola, and Hal Ashby, Friedkin rose to prominence in the 1970s as part of a new generation of vibrant and bold directors. Combining his experience in television, particularly documentaries, with cutting-edge editing style, Friedkin brought a great deal of energy to the horror and crime thriller genres he specialized in.

“The French Connection” was an incredibly frenetic and morally ambiguous tale, shot in a documentary style and containing one of cinema’s most famously thrilling car chase sequences. “The Connection” won several Oscars including Best Picture, Director, and Actor (Gene Hackman) and became a benchmark for the police genre in films and television for years to come.

Following the critical acclaim of “The French Connection” came 1973’s “The Exorcist,” which grossed a staggering $500 million worldwide and, along with “The Godfather,” ushered in the blockbuster era in filmmaking. Adapted from William Peter Blatty’s novel about the demonic possession of a young girl, “The Exorcist” was a highly stylized thriller, influential on the horror genre much like “The Connection” had been on crime thrillers. It earned him a second Oscar nomination for Best Director.

After his success with the notable films of the 1970s, however, Friedkin made a couple of noteworthy films, notably the superior thriller “To Live and Die in L.A.” He also developed a reputation for being difficult to work with, which he only shed after his marriage to studio head Sherry Lansing in 1991, when he resumed directing films on a regular basis.

Friedkin began in the mailroom of Chicago television station WGN, where he quickly rose to directing television programs and documentaries. He said he directed around 2,000 television programs during those early years, including the 1962 documentary “The People vs. Paul Crump,” about the rehabilitation of a man on death row. It earned him a Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco Film Festival and led to a job leading the documentary division at WBKB and later a documentary directing gig for producer David L. Wolper.


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