William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist, widely considered to be one of the greatest contemporary horror novels, has died. William Friedkin, who directed the also well-regarded 1973 film based on Blatty’s book, broke the news on Twitter, saying, “William Peter Blatty, dear friend and brother who created The Exorcist passed away yesterday.” His wife then told the Associated Press that Blatty had died of multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer. He was 89.
Blatty was born in 1928 in New York City, the son of Lebanese immigrants. He was raised by his deeply Catholic single mother, and attended a Jesuit high school and then Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., the city that would serve as the backdrop for his Exorcist novels. After graduating from Georgetown in 1950, he served in the U.S. Air Force’s propaganda wing, the Psychological Warfare Division—an experience that would serve as the basis for his first book, the comedic autobiography Which Way to Mecca, Jack?. That book’s success led to a series of comic novels, amd screenplays screenplays for a handful of Hollywood comedies, like A Shot In The Dark (1964), Promise Her Anything (1966), and The Great Train Robbery (1969).
At the end of the ‘60s, Blatty retreated from Hollywood and returned to writing novels. He wasn’t gone for long, though, because the massive success of The Exorcist—Blatty’s first foray into horror—led to him being contracted to write the screenplay for the film version. The film was also a critical and commercial hit, and Blatty eventually won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and a Golden Globe for Best Writing for his work on the film. (The Exorcist was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, a rarity in the horror genre.)
From then on, Blatty worked primarily in the horror genre, drawing from his Catholic faith to create existential terror in his directorial debut, The Ninth Configuration (1980). That film flopped at the box office—although it’s since gained a cult following—but was a critical hit, and was nominated for three Golden Globes, including Best Picture. He returned to directing in 1990 with The Exorcist III, also based on one of his novels, the 1983 Exorcist sequel Legion. The Exorcist III ignores the events of the widely maligned The Exorcist II—in which Blatty took no part—and returns to the D.C. setting of the original, this time focusing on bit player Lt. William Kinderman (George C. Scott.)
Blatty published three novels at the end of the 2010s, and just last year he published the memoir Finding Peter: A True Story Of The Hand Of Providence And Evidence Of Life After Death. His influence on later generations of horror writers was profound; Stephen King,an influential author himself, paid tribute to Blatty earlier today: