The Exorcist Writer William Peter Blatty Dies at 89

The writer/filmmaker who scared the devil out of America started out telling jokes.

William Peter Blatty, who wrote the book and screenplay for The Exorcist, died Thursday, Jan. 12, at a hospital near his home in Bethesda, Maryland. Blatty was 89.

The new was announced by William Friedkin, who directed the influential  1973 horror movie.

“William Peter Blatty, dear friend and brother who created The Exorcist passed away yesterday,” Friedkin tweeted Friday morning,

According to his wife Julie Witbrodt, Blatty died of death was multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer.

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

Blatty’s 1970 novel The Exorcist lived on the New York Times bestseller list for 57 weeks, selling more than 10 million copies.

The 1973 feature adaptation, starring Linda Blair as the 12-year-old girl possessed by the devil, played in theaters for months, with lines overflowing around city blocks. The film topped $400 million at the worldwide box office. The Exorcist was the first horror movie ever nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Blatty won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film was designated for preservation by the Library of Congress, who enshrined it in the National Film Registry in 2010. Fox adapted it into a TV series in September 2016.

Blatty was born in New York in 1928. His parents were Lebanese immigrant parents. Blatty was a former Jesuit school valedictorian. He had a number of odd jobs. He sold vacuum-cleaners, a beer truck driver and as a ticket agent for United Airlines. After he enlisted in the Air Force, he specialized in psychological warfare, edited the U.S. Information Agency’s magazine and did PR for universities.

While his work on The Exorcist projects label him a fright specialist, he began in comedy. He won $10,000 for telling a joke to Groucho Marx on the fifties gameshow You Bet Your Life and tossed off the prescient punch line that he was off to “work on a novel.” He wrote the comic 1960 autobiography, Which Way to Mecca, Jack? and the comic novels, I, Billy Shakespeare (1965), and Twinkle, Twinkle, “Killer” Kane (1966) which was republished under the name The Ninth Configuration.

Blatty excelled in his early film comedies. He wrote The Man From the Diner’s Club (1963), which starred Danny Kaye; Promise Her Anything (1965), which starred the Warren Beatty-Leslie Caron; the political comedy John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! (1965), which starred Shirley MacLaine and Peter Ustinov and The Great Bank Robbery (1969) which starred the irrepressible Zero Mostel. He worked on Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther sequel  Shot in the Dark (1964) What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966), Gunn (1967) and the musical-comedy Darling Lili (1970).

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Blatty wasn’t part of the 1977 sequel Exorcist II: The Heretic, directed by John Boorman.  Legion, Blatty’s sequel to The Exorcist, was published in 1983. He adapted the screenplay and produced and directed it for the screen as The Exorcist III. He wasn’t involved in the 2004 prequel Exorcist: The Beginning or its source material Paul Schrader’s Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, which Blatty preferred.

Blatty published the autobiography I’ll Tell Them I Remember You in 1973, His memoir If There Were Demons Then Perhaps There Were Angels: William Peter Blatty’s Own Story of the Exorcist was published in 1978. His novel Elsewhere was published in 2009 and the books Dimiter and Crazy were published in 2010.