Without the book, there’d be no movie. And without the man — and his lingering memory of an article about a case of real-life demonic possession — there’d be no book. William Peter Blatty, author of the 1971 best-seller The Exorcist that became the influential 1973 horror movie classic, has died at age 89.
William Peter Blatty, left, joins Linda Blair and William Friedkin at a screening of the remastered film in 2010 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Image: AP Photo/Starpix, Dave Allocca
William Friedkin, who directed the movie, remained close with the author and screenwriter over the years, and confirmed the news this morning:
William Peter Blatty, dear friend and brother who created The Exorcist passed away yesterday
— William Friedkin (@WilliamFriedkin) January 13, 2017
In his 1974 book William Peter Blatty on The Exorcist: From Novel to Film, the author recalled that in 1949, while a university student at Georgetown, he spotted an article in the Washington Post entitled, “Priest Frees Mt Rainier Boy Reported Held in Devil’s Grip.” (You can read an archived version here). It’s a chillingly matter-of-fact report on a 14-year-old Maryland boy’s demonic possession — and subsequent exorcism — and the details stuck with Blatty for decades. The rest is scary movie history.
In addition to writing The Exorcist and its screenplay, Blatty also wrote and directed 1990’s The Exorcist III and 1980’s The Ninth Configuration, both based on his novels. In 2013, on the occasion of The Exorcist movie’s 40th anniversary, he made a surprising admission about his best-known work. “When I was writing the novel, I thought I was writing a supernatural detective story that was filled with suspense with theological overtones,” he told the LA Times. “To this day, I have zero recollection of even a moment when I was writing that I was trying to frighten anyone.” Fortunately for horror fans everywhere, his words frightened everyone.