Acclaimed Hollywood filmmaker William Friedkin, director of iconic films such as The French Connection and The Exorcist, died on August 7, 2023 at the age of 87. Friedkin was a towering figure of American cinema’s New Hollywood era, helping to usher in an age of gritty, realistic filmmaking in the 1970s. Known for his intense energy and at times combative personality, Friedkin pushed boundaries on screen and off throughout his decades-long career. His seminal 1971 crime thriller The French Connection earned him an Academy Award for Best Director, while 1973’s The Exorcist terrified audiences and became one of the most profitable and influential horror films ever made. Though Friedkin never fully recaptured the critical and commercial heights of his early career, his bold directorial vision left an indelible mark on cinema. He is survived by his fourth wife, former Paramount Pictures CEO Sherry Lansing, and two sons from previous marriages. Hollywood has lost one of its true maverick directors.
Grew up in Chicago, discovered movies as a teen
Directed gritty, intense films like The French Connection and The Exorcist in the 1970s
Pushed boundaries and clashed with studios throughout his career
Known for his fiery personality and uncompromising vision, William Friedkin frequently pushed boundaries and clashed with studio executives throughout his decades-long career. Even after the massive success of The French Connection and The Exorcist, Friedkin resisted softening his directorial approach and bucked against mainstream conventions. Films like 1977’s Sorcerer were ambitious and gritty when studios wanted blockbuster escapism, leading to conflicts. While some of Friedkin’s later boundary-pushing films like Cruising and To Live and Die in L.A. found appreciation over time, they were initially met with controversy and mediocre box office due to their challenging themes and style. Friedkin insisted on his uncompromising methods on set as well, notoriously difficult to please. Though his clashes with Hollywood sometimes left projects dead in the water, Friedkin held to his maverick ideals. For better or worse, his willingness to push boundaries and lock horns defined his reputation as a director.
Struggled to match early successes, but made bold films like To Live and Die in L.A.
Influenced generations of Hollywood directors with his groundbreaking work
Married 4 times, fathered 2 sons
In his personal life, William Friedkin was married four times, to actresses Jeanne Moreau and Lesley-Anne Down, news anchor Kelly Lange, and studio executive Sherry Lansing. He also had high-profile romantic relationships with Kitty Hawks, daughter of director Howard Hawks, and Australian dancer Jennifer Nairn-Smith. Friedkin fathered two sons – Jack, with second wife Lesley-Anne Down in 1982, and Cedric, with Nairn-Smith in 1976. Though known for being uncompromising creatively, Friedkin experienced his share of turbulence in his romantic life. His first three marriages ended in divorce, while his partnership with Nairn-Smith also ultimately dissolved despite becoming parents together. Friedkin’s fourth marriage to Lansing proved his most enduring, lasting from 1991 until his death. Though focused intensely on his directing career, fatherhood was also said to be profoundly important to Friedkin. Despite the instability of his marriages, his two sons and handful of grandkids brought the prickly cinematic genius happiness in his later years.
Died at age 87 in Los Angeles
On August 7, 2023, legendary director William Friedkin passed away at the age of 87 in Los Angeles, California. According to a statement from his family, Friedkin died of natural causes at his home in the Bel Air neighborhood, surrounded by loved ones. Though his health had been declining in recent years, he remained active in the cinema community, receiving lifetime achievement awards as recently as 2017. Friedkin’s death marks the end of an era for Hollywood, as one of the last major directors of the seminal New Hollywood movement of the 1970s. However, the daring innovation and boundless creativity he brought to classics like The French Connection and The Exorcist will live on for decades to come. William Friedkin leaves behind an unmatched cinematic legacy, one that forever changed the landscape of American filmmaking.
- Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood and oxygen to meet the body’s needs. It can be caused by coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, or other conditions that damage the heart. Symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, and swelling in the legs.
- Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs usually caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. It leads to inflammation and fluid buildup that makes breathing painful and limits oxygen circulation. Symptoms include cough, fever, chills, and difficulty breathing.
- Both heart failure and pneumonia are common causes of death in elderly populations. Heart failure makes one prone to fatal pneumonia by limiting circulation and the body’s ability to fight lung infection.
- Treatment for heart failure aims to improve heart function with medications and reduce fluid buildup. Pneumonia is treated with antibiotics, rest, fluids, and oxygen support in severe cases.
- However, in elderly and frail individuals with underlying heart issues, pneumonia can quickly become life-threatening due to the heart’s limited ability to compensate. Both conditions together can overwhelm the body’s systems.
- Friedkin’s death at 87 from heart failure complicated by pneumonia is a common end for those with chronic cardiac issues who contract severe lung infection. The combination can prove difficult to recover from at an advanced age given the vital organs affected.
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