William Friedkin
William Friedkin, Festival de Sitges 2017 (cropped).jpg
Friedkin in 2017
Born (1935-08-29) August 29, 1935 (age 87)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
EducationSenn High School
  • Director
  • producer
  • screenwriter
Years active1962–present
  • (m. 1977; div. 1979)
  • (m. 1982; div. 1985)
  • (m. 1987; div. 1990)
  • (m. 1991)
William Friedkin Signature.svg

William "Billy" Friedkin (born August 29, 1935)[1] is an American film and television director, producer and screenwriter closely identified with the "New Hollywood" movement of the 1970s.[2][3] Beginning his career in documentaries in the early 1960s, he directed the crime thriller film The French Connection (1971), which won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director, and the supernatural horror film The Exorcist (1973), which earned him a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Director.

His other films include the drama The Boys in the Band (1970), the thriller Sorcerer (1977), the crime comedy drama The Brink's Job (1978), the crime thriller Cruising (1980),[4][5] the neo-noir thriller To Live and Die in L.A. (1985), the psychological horror film Bug (2006) and the black comedy Killer Joe (2011).

Early life

Friedkin was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Rachael (née Green) and Louis Friedkin. His father was a semi-professional softball player, merchant seaman, and men's clothing salesman. His mother, whom Friedkin called "a saint", was an operating room registered nurse.[1] His parents were Jewish emigrants from Ukraine.[6] His grandparents, parents, and other relatives fled Ukraine during a particularly violent anti-Jewish pogrom in 1903.[7] Friedkin's father was somewhat uninterested in making money, and the family was generally lower middle class while he was growing up.[1] According to film historian Peter Biskind, "Friedkin viewed his father with a mixture of affection and contempt for not making more of himself."[1] According to his memoir, The Friedkin Connection, Friedkin had the utmost affection for his father.

Friedkin attended public schools in Chicago. He enrolled at Senn High School, where he played basketball well enough to consider turning professional.[8] However he was not a serious student and barely received grades good enough to graduate,[9] which he did at the age of 16.[10] According to Friedkin, this was because of social promotion and not because he was bright.[11]

Friedkin began going to movies as a teenager,[8] and has cited Citizen Kane as one of his key influences. Several sources claim that Friedkin saw this motion picture as a teenager,[12] but Friedkin himself says that he did not see the film until 1960, when he was 25 years old. Only then, Friedkin says, did he become a true cineaste.[13] Among the movies which he saw as a teenager and young adult were Les Diaboliques, The Wages of Fear (which many consider he remade as Sorcerer), and Psycho (which he viewed repeatedly, like Citizen Kane). Televised documentaries such as 1960's Harvest of Shame were also important in his developing sense of cinema.[8]

He began working in the mail room at WGN-TV immediately after high school.[14] Within two years (at the age of 18),[15] he started his directorial career doing live television shows and documentaries.[16] His efforts included The People vs. Paul Crump (1962), which won an award at the San Francisco International Film Festival and contributed to the commutation of Crump's death sentence.[15][17] Its success helped Friedkin get a job with producer David L. Wolper.[15] He also made the football-themed documentary Mayhem on a Sunday Afternoon.[18]


As mentioned in his voice-over commentary on the DVD re-release of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, Friedkin directed one of the last episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1965, called "Off Season". Hitchcock admonished Friedkin for not wearing a tie while directing.[19]

In 1965, Friedkin moved to Hollywood and two years later released his first feature film, Good Times starring Sonny and Cher. He has referred to the film as "unwatchable".[20] Several other "art" films followed: The Birthday Party, based on an unpublished screenplay by Harold Pinter, which he adapted from his own play; the musical comedy The Night They Raided Minsky's, starring Jason Robards and Britt Ekland; and the adaptation of Mart Crowley's play The Boys in the Band.

Friedkin, c. 1970
Friedkin, c. 1970

His next film, The French Connection, was released to wide critical acclaim in 1971. Shot in a gritty style more suited for documentaries than Hollywood features, the film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Friedkin's next film was 1973's The Exorcist, based on William Peter Blatty's best-selling novel, which revolutionized the horror genre and is considered by some critics to be one of the greatest horror movies of all time. The Exorcist was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. It won for Best Screenplay and Best Sound.

Following these two pictures, Friedkin, along with Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Bogdanovich, was deemed one of the premier directors of New Hollywood. In 1973, the trio announced the formation of an independent production company at Paramount, The Directors Company. Whereas Coppola directed The Conversation and Bogdanovich, the Henry James adaptation, Daisy Miller, Friedkin abruptly left the company, which was soon closed by Paramount.[21] But Friedkin's later movies did not achieve the same success. Sorcerer (1977), a $22 million American remake of the French classic The Wages of Fear, co-produced by both Universal and Paramount, starring Roy Scheider, was overshadowed by the blockbuster box-office success of Star Wars, which had been released exactly one week prior. Friedkin considers it his finest film, and was personally devastated by its financial and critical failure (as mentioned by Friedkin himself in the 1999 documentary series The Directors).

Sorcerer was shortly followed by the crime-comedy The Brink's Job (1978), based on the real-life Great Brink's Robbery in Boston, Massachusetts, which was also unsuccessful at the box-office. In 1980, he directed an adaptation of the Gerald Walker crime thriller Cruising, starring Al Pacino, which was protested against even during its making and remains the subject of heated debate. The film was critically assailed, and was a financial disappointment.[22]

Friedkin suffered a major heart attack on March 6, 1981, due to a genetically caused defect in his circumflex left coronary artery, and nearly died. He spent months in rehabilitation.[23]

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Friedkin's films received mostly lackluster reviews and moderate ticket sales. Deal of the Century (1983), starring Chevy Chase, Gregory Hines and Sigourney Weaver, was sometimes regarded as a latter-day Dr. Strangelove, though it was generally savaged by critics. However, his action/crime movie To Live and Die in L.A. (1985), starring William Petersen and Willem Dafoe, was a critical favorite and drew comparisons to Friedkin's own The French Connection (particularly for its car-chase sequence), while his courtroom-drama/thriller Rampage (1987) received a fairly positive review from Roger Ebert despite major distribution problems. He next directed the horror film The Guardian (1990) and then the thriller Jade (1995), starring Linda Fiorentino. Though the latter film received an unfavorable response from critics and audiences, Friedkin said that Jade was the favorite of all the films he had made,[24] as is Sorcerer.[25]

In 2000, The Exorcist was re-released in theaters with extra footage and grossed $40 million in the U.S. alone. Friedkin directed the 2007 film Bug due to a positive experience watching the stage version in 2004. He was surprised to find that he was, metaphorically, on the same page as the playwright and felt that he could relate well to the story.[26] The film won the FIPRESCI prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Later, Friedkin directed an episode of the TV series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation titled "Cockroaches", which re-teamed him with To Live and Die in L.A. star William Petersen. He directed again for CSI's 200th episode, "Mascara".

Friedkin at Festival Deauville, France, 2012
Friedkin at Festival Deauville, France, 2012

In 2011, Friedkin directed Killer Joe, a black comedy written by Tracy Letts based on Letts' play, and starring Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon, and Thomas Haden Church. Killer Joe premiered at the 68th Venice International Film Festival, prior to its North American debut at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. It opened in U.S. theaters in July 2012, to some favorable reviews from critics but did poorly at the box office, possibly because of its restrictive NC-17 rating.

In April 2013, Friedkin published a memoir, The Friedkin Connection.[27] He was presented with a lifetime achievement award at the 70th Venice International Film Festival in September.[28]

In 2017, Friedkin directed The Devil and Father Amorth, a documentary showing the ninth exorcism of an Italian woman in the village of Venafro.[29]

In August 2022, it was announced that Friedkin would be returning to directing to helm an adaptation of the two-act play The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial starring Kiefer Sutherland as Lt. Commander Queeg.[30]


The moving image collection of William Friedkin is held at the Academy Film Archive. The material at the Academy Film Archive is complemented by material in the William Friedkin papers at the academy's Margaret Herrick Library.[31]


Fredkin has cited Jean-Luc Godard,[32] Federico Fellini,[32] François Truffaut,[32] and Akira Kurosawa.[32]

In regards to influences to specific films on his films, Friedkin notes that the film's documentary-like realism was the direct result of the influence of having seen Z, a French film by Costa-Gavras. Friedkin mentioned the film's influence on him when directing The French Connection:

After I saw Z, I realized how I could shoot The French Connection. Because he shot Z like a documentary. It was a fiction film but it was made like it was actually happening. Like the camera didn't know what was gonna happen next. And that is an induced technique. It looks like he happened upon the scene and captured what was going on as you do in a documentary. My first films were documentaries too. So I understood what he was doing but I never thought you could do that in a feature at that time until I saw Z.[33]

Personal life

Friedkin and Sherry Lansing at the Deauville American Film Festival in 2012
Friedkin and Sherry Lansing at the Deauville American Film Festival in 2012

William Friedkin has been married four times:

While he was filming The Boys in the Band in 1970, Friedkin began a relationship with Kitty Hawks, daughter of director Howard Hawks. It lasted two years, during which the couple announced their engagement, but the relationship ended about 1972.[42] Friedkin began a four-year relationship with Australian dancer and choreographer Jennifer Nairn-Smith in 1972. Although they announced an engagement twice, they never married. They did, however, have a son, Cedric, born on November 27, 1976.[43] Friedkin and his second wife, Lesley-Anne Down, also had a son, Jack, born in 1982.[37] Friedkin was raised Jewish, but called himself an agnostic later in life.[44][45] However, during an appearance and Q&A at a 40th anniversary screening of The Exorcist at the 2013 Dallas International Film Festival, Friedkin said he "believes strongly in God" and "the teachings of Jesus" and other religious figures, and that mankind is "in God's hands."[46]



Year Title Director Writer Producer
1967 Good Times Yes No No
1968 The Birthday Party Yes No No
The Night They Raided Minsky's Yes No No
1970 The Boys in the Band Yes No No
1971 The French Connection Yes Uncredited No
1973 The Exorcist Yes No No
1977 Sorcerer Yes No Yes
1978 The Brink's Job Yes No No
1980 Cruising Yes Yes No
1983 Deal of the Century Yes No No
1985 To Live and Die in L.A. Yes Yes No
1987 Rampage Yes Yes Yes
1990 The Guardian Yes Yes No
1994 Blue Chips Yes No No
1995 Jade Yes Uncredited No
2000 Rules of Engagement Yes No No
2003 The Hunted Yes No No
2006 Bug Yes No No
2011 Killer Joe Yes No No
TBA The Caine Mutiny Yes No No

Documentary films

Year Title Director Producer Writer
1962 The People vs. Paul Crump Yes Yes No
1965 The Bold Men Yes No No
Mayhem on a Sunday Afternoon Yes Yes No
1966 The Thin Blue Line Yes Yes Story
2017 The Devil and Father Amorth Yes No Yes


TV series

Year Title Episode(s)
1965 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour "Off Season"
1985 The Twilight Zone "Nightcrawlers"
1992 Tales from the Crypt "On a Deadman's Chest"
2007 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation "Cockroaches"
2009 "Mascara"

TV movies

Year Title Director Writer Executive
1986 C.A.T. Squad Yes No Yes
1988 C.A.T. Squad: Python Wolf Yes Yes Yes
1994 Jailbreakers Yes No No
1997 12 Angry Men Yes No No


Year Award Category Title Result
1972 Academy Award Best Director The French Connection Won
Directors Guild of America Outstanding Directorial Achievement Won
Golden Globes Best Director Won
1973 BAFTA Award Nominated
1974 Academy Award The Exorcist Nominated
Directors Guild of America Outstanding Directorial Achievement Nominated
Golden Globes Best Director Won
1981 Razzie Awards Worst Director Cruising Nominated
Worst Screenplay Nominated
1986 Cognac Festival du Film Policier Audience Award To Live and Die in L.A. Won
1988 Deauville Film Festival Critics Award Rampage Nominated
1991 Saturn Award George Pal Memorial Award Won
1993 Best Director Rampage Nominated
1998 Directors Guild of America Outstanding Directorial Achievement 12 Angry Men Nominated
Primetime Emmy Awards Best Director Nominated
1999 Saturn Award President's Award Won
Empire Awards Movie Masterpiece Award The Exorcist Won
2000 Palm Beach International Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award Won
2006 Cannes Film Festival FIPRESCI Bug Won
2007 Munich Film Festival CineMerit Award Won
Sitges - Catalan International Film Festival Time-Machine Honorary Award Won
2009 Locarno International Film Festival Leopard of Honor Won
2011 Venice Film Festival Golden Lion Killer Joe Nominated
Golden Mouse Won
2013 Belgian Film Critics Association Grand Prix Nominated
Saturn Award Best Director Nominated
Lifetime Achievement Award Won
Venice Film Festival Special Lion Won

Friedkin was made Honorary Associate of London Film School.[citation needed]



  1. ^ a b c d Biskind, p. 200.
  2. ^ "The American New Wave: A Retrospective | H-Announce | H-Net". networks.h-net.org. Retrieved February 19, 2018.
  3. ^ "June 1977: When New Hollywood Got Weird". The Film Stage. June 21, 2017. Retrieved February 19, 2018.
  4. ^ "The Controversy of CRUISING | Cinematheque". cinema.wisc.edu. Retrieved February 19, 2018.
  5. ^ Guthmann, Edward (1980). "THE CRUISING CONTROVERSY: William Friedkin vs. the Gay Community". Cinéaste. 10 (3): 2–8. JSTOR 41685938.
  6. ^ Pfefferman, Naomi. "'Killer Joe's' William Friedkin: 'I Could Have Been a Very Violent Person'." Jewish Journal. August 2, 2012. Archived August 22, 2016, at the Wayback Machine Accessed 2013-04-29.
  7. ^ Friedkin, The Friedkin Connection, p. 1.
  8. ^ a b c Biskind, p. 201.
  9. ^ Segaloff, p. 25.
  10. ^ Wakeman, p. 372.
  11. ^ Friedkin, Conversations at the American Film Institute..., p. 186.
  12. ^ Emery, p. 237; Claggett, p. 3.
  13. ^ Friedkin, The Friedkin Connection, p. 9.
  14. ^ Stevens, p. 184.
  15. ^ a b c Walker and Johnson, p. 15.
  16. ^ Derry, p. 361; Edmonds and Mimura, p. 211.
  17. ^ Hamm, p. 86-87.
  18. ^ Charles Champlin, "Friedkin Damns the Torpedoes", The Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1967. Retrieved via Newspapers.com.
  19. ^ "Vertigo: The Legacy Series" Universal, 2008
  20. ^ The Directors: William Friedkin
  21. ^ Bart, Peter (May 9, 2011). Infamous Players: A Tale of Movies, the Mob, (and Sex). Weinstein Books.
  22. ^ Segaloff, Nat (January 1, 1990). Hurricane Billy: The Stormy Life and Films of William Friedkin. New York: William Morrow & Co. ISBN 9780688078522.
  23. ^ Biskind, p. 413.
  24. ^ William, Linda Ruth (2005). The Erotic Thriller in Contemporary Cinema. Indiana University Press. p. 140. ISBN 0-253-21836-5.
  25. ^ Goldmann, A.J. (July 9, 2016). "'I never thought my films would find a large audience': William Friedkin interviewed". The Spectator. Retrieved July 5, 2017.
  26. ^ "EXCL: Bug Director William Friedkin". May 18, 2007.
  27. ^ Friedkin, William. The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir. New York: HarperCollins, 2013.
  28. ^ "William Friedkin to receive Venice honour". BBC News. May 2, 2013.
  29. ^ Friedkin, William (October 31, 2016). "The Devil and Father Amorth: Witnessing "the Vatican Exorcist" at Work". Vanity Fair.
  30. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (August 29, 2022). "William Friedkin Directing Kiefer Sutherland In Update Of Herman Wouk's 'The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial' For Showtime & Paramount Global". deadline.com.
  31. ^ "William Friedkin Collection". Academy Film Archive. October 13, 2015.
  32. ^ a b c d Mike Fleming Jr (August 6, 2015). "William Friedkin Q&A: '70s Maverick Revisits A Golden Era With Tales Of Glory And Reckless Abandon". Deadline. Deadline Hollywood, LLC. Retrieved September 14, 2022. Friedkin: ".... But none of us in the 70s thought we were operating in a golden age; we all had been influenced by Godard, Fellini, Truffaut, Kurosawa."
  33. ^ "William Friedkin's Favorite Films of all Time". Fade In Magazine. Retrieved January 20, 2022 – via YouTube.
  34. ^ Martin, Judith. "Personalities." Washington Post. February 9, 1977, p. B3.
  35. ^ "Filing for Divorce." Newsweek. June 25, 1979, p. 99.
  36. ^ Sanders, Richard. "Director Billy Friedkin and Lesley-Anne Down Make a Home Movie-Divorce Hollywood Style." People. September 2, 1985. Accessed 2013-04-29.
  37. ^ a b "Names in the News." Associated Press. August 15, 1985.
  38. ^ "Director William Friedkin Marries News Anchor Kelly Lange." Ocala Star-Banner. July 29, 1987, p. 2A. Accessed 2013-04-29.
  39. ^ Ryon, Ruth. "Still Anchored in the Hills." Los Angeles Times. May 31, 1992. Accessed 2013-04-29.
  40. ^ Anderson, Susan Heller. "Chronicle." New York Times. July 11, 1991. Accessed 2013-04-29.
  41. ^ Teetor, Paul. "'The Exorcist' Director William Friedkin Tells All in His No-Bullshit Memoir." Los Angeles Times. April 11, 2013. Accessed 2013-04-29.
  42. ^ Segaloff, p. 98.
  43. ^ "William Friedkin – Biography." Movies.Yahoo.com. 2013, accessed 2013-04-29; "Failing Better Every Time." Sunday Independent. July 1, 2012.
  44. ^ The Exorcist & The French Connection Dir. William Friedkin on Religion, Crime & Film on YouTube
  45. ^ Brent Lang (April 12, 2013). "Director William Friedkin on Clashes With Pacino, Hackman and Why an Atheist Couldn't Helm 'Exorcist'". The Wrap. Retrieved October 4, 2020. My personal beliefs are defined as agnostic. I'm someone who believes that the power of God and the soul are unknowable, but that anybody who says there is no God is not being honest about the mystery of fate. I was raised in the Jewish faith, but I strongly believe in the teachings of Jesus.
  46. ^ William Friedkin, director of THE EXORCIST at the 2013 Dallas International Film Festival on YouTube

Further reading