William Peter Blatty, the Oscar-winning writer of the 1973 film (and novel) The Exorcist died Thursday. He was 89.
The news was shared Friday by close friend William Friedkin, who earned an Oscar nomination for directing the horror classic that starred Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow and Linda Blair.
William Peter Blatty, dear friend and brother who created The Exorcist passed away yesterday
— William Friedkin (@WilliamFriedkin) January 13, 2017
Blatty had just celebrated his 89th birthday last week, but he died Jan. 12 in a Maryland hospital.
The Exorcist earned a whopping $400.2 million worldwide in 1973, although $2.9 million of that came from a theatrical re-release in 2000. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $2.2 billion today.
William Peter Blatty was born Jan. 7, 1928, in New York City. He was the son of Lebanese immigrants. His father would leave at a young age, leaving him and his mother destitute, but never releasing their deep Roman Catholic faith.
Blatty was able to rise up from poverty thanks to his academics, earning a scholarship to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and later finishing his master’s degree at George Washington University.
During the Korean War, he would serve in the U.S. Air Force. After he left the service, he appeared on Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life, winning a $10,000 prize (more than $80,000 today), which allowed him to quit his odd jobs and write full-time.
Blatty would become a screenwriter, beginning with 1963’s The Man from the Diner’s Club starring Danny Kaye. He would later write Promise Her Anything in 1966 with Warren Beatty and the 1969 western The Great Bank Robbery.
Yet it would be The Exorcist that would define his career. Pulling a bit from his Catholic faith, Blatty was inspired to write the story after reading about a 1949 case of demonic possession and exorcism while a student at Georgetown. Because of those personal connections, when Blatty published the novel in 1971, it took place in Washington, D.C., not far from his alma mater.
The franchise would spin off four more films, some successful, others not – to the point where Blatty himself would distance himself from them.
The Exorcist II: The Heretic in 1977 earned just $25 million ($101.6 million today), and 1990’s The Exorcist III in 1990 didn’t fare much better, earning almost the identical box office, or $46.9 million today.
Director Renny Harlin tried to jumpstart the franchise in 2004 with the reboot The Exorcist: The Beginning. However, that film managed just $44 million.
Last year, however, Blatty released his director’s cut of The Exorcist III on DVD, renamed Legion after the novel it was based on. That film starred George C. Scott, Ed Flanders and Brad Dourif.
The Exorcist television series debuted last September on Fox starring Alfonso Herrera and Ben Daniels. The 10-episode series is considered a sequel to the 1973 film, but Fox has not said whether it will return for a second season as of yet.
It’s not clear if Blatty had any survivors.
This story was updated to correct the location of Mr. Blatty’s death.
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