‘Exorcist’ author William Peter Blatty dead at 89

FILE – In this Sept. 29, 2010-photo released by Starpix, “The Exorcist” author William Peter Blatty, left, joins Linda Blair, who starred in 1973 the film and William Friedkin, the director of the film, at a screening of the remastered film at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Blatty died, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017, at a hospital in Bethesda, Md, from multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, according to his wife Julie. He was 89. (Dave Allocca/Starpix via AP, File)

(Associated Press)

NEW YORK – Author and filmmaker William Peter Blatty, a former Jesuit school valedictorian who conjured up a story of demonic possession and gave millions of people the shock of their lives with the best-selling novel and Oscar-winning film ‘The Exorcist’, has died. He was 89.

Blatty died Thursday in a hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, where he lived, his widow, Julie Alicia Blatty, told The Associated Press. The cause of death was multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, ” she said.

Inspired by an incident in a suburb of Washington, that Blatty had read about in high school, “The Exorcist” was published in 1971, followed two years later by the movie of the same name. Blatty’s story of a 12-year-old girl is inhabited by a satanic force for more than a year on The New York Times fiction best-seller list and eventually sold more than 10 million copies. It reaches a much wider audience through the film version, directed by William Friedkin, produced and written by Blatty and starring Linda Blair as the young, bedeviled Regan.

“RIP William Peter Blatty, who wrote the great horror novel of our time, Stephen King tweeted Friday. “So long, Old Bill.”

Even those who thought they had seen everything, had never seen anything like the R-rated “The Exorcist” and the onslaught of vomit, blood, rotting teeth, menacing eyes and the whirlwind, head-spinning — with thanks to the make-up and special effects maestro Dick Smith. Fans don’t care that Vincent Canby of The New York Times found it “a piece of elegant occultist claptrap”, or that the set is burned to the ground during the production. They stood for hours in the freezing cold weather for the winter release, and kept coming, even as the film, with the ubiquitous soundtrack theme, Mike Oldfield is fresh, tingly “Tubular Bells,” throw her own disturbing spell.

From all over the world came reports of fainting, vomiting, seizures, members of the public that the charging of the screen, and waving rosary beads, and, in England, a boy of committing murder and blaming of “The Exorcist.” The Rev. Billy Graham would claim that the film’s very celluloid was evil.

“I was in the back of a theater in New York in the first pressure on the public screening of the film, too nervous to sit down,” he told Blatty in the year 2000. “And then came a woman who was in about the fifth or sixth row. A young woman, who began to walk down the aisle, slowly at first. She had her hand on her head. And then I could see her lips move. She came close enough, and I heard her mutter, ” Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.'”

Named the scariest film of all time by Entertainment Weekly, “The Exorcist” topped $400 million worldwide at the box office, one of the highest in the time for an R-rated picture. Oscar voters also offered rare respect for a horror film: “The Exorcist” was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and received two, for best sound and Blatty’s screenplay. Imitations, parodies, and sequels were inevitable, or the Leslie Nielsen spoof “Reversed”; the “Exorcist” movies (only one of which, “The Exorcist III,” which involved Blatty) or a stage version performed in 2012 at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles.

“When I was writing the novel I thought of it as a super-natural detective story, and to this day I do not remember having a conscious intention to terrifying someone, that you can take, I think, as a recognition of failure on an almost narcotic scale,” Blatty told The Huffington Post in 2011.

Blatty back to the “Exorcist” setting in the “Legion,” which he adapted into “The Exorcist III.” He is also revising a novel from the 1960s, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Killer Kane”‘; it was renamed “The Ninth Configuration” and wrote and directed in 1980 with a version of the film, which Blatty a Golden Globe for best screenplay. In 2011, he worked in a new scene for a re-release of the 1971 novel, originally acquired by Bantam Books for a sum of reportedly $250,000. More recently, Fox announced it would revive the story as a TV series, starring Geena Davis.

Blatty is married four times and had eight children.

“He was absolutely wonderful, kind, generous, faithful man, and I was very blessed to be his wife,” Julie Blatty said.

The son of Lebanese immigrants, Blatty was born in New York City and remembered a childhood of unpaid invoices and non-stop evasion of the rent collectors. He was a scholarship student at the Jesuit high school Brooklyn Preparatory (future Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was a year behind) and graduated the class valedictorian. He received a scholarship to attend the Georgetown University and holds a master’s degree in English literature from the George Washington University.

As told in his memoirs “I Tell Them that I Forget,” he took many detours on his journey to the top. He sold vacuum cleaners, drove a beer truck, served in the air force, was stationed in Beirut by the United States Information Agency, tried and failed to get stories published in Collier’s, and auditioned for a role in Cecil B. DeMille’s Biblical epic “The Ten Commandments.” He claimed that he was rejected because his eyes were blue.

For much of the 1960s, it turned out that he scenarios, including for the Blake Edwards film “A Shot in the Dark” and “What Did You do In the War, Daddy?” By the end of the decade, he was in a state of “financial desperation” and finally to a novel he had been thinking about for years. He had thought of a Washington Post report of the late 1940s: A 14-year-old boy from Maryland reportedly was had, the condition is defined by a visit to the Duke University official as “the most impressive example of poltergeist phenomena that I have ever encountered.”

“Like so many Catholics, I have so many little battles of wavering faith over the course of my life,” Blatty, who would claim numerous mysterious events during the work on the book, told

“And when I heard about this case and read the details, that seemed so convincing. I thought: ‘My God if someone to investigate and verify, which is a tremendous boost to faith it would be.’ I thought, ” Someday I would like to see that happen. You know, I would like to do it.'”


Associated Press writer Ben Nuckols in Washington contributed to this report.

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