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Famed film director William Friedkin, who won an Oscar for “The French Connection” and directed such exceptional films as “The Exorcist,” “Rules of Engagement,” and “Sorcerer,” has died at the age of 87.
Born in Chicago in 1935, Friedkin’s parents were Jewish emigrants from Ukraine who fled with his grandparents after a violent anti-Semitic pogrom in 1903. After graduating from high school at 16 (Friedkin admitted he was not a good student), he started working in the mail room at WGN-TV.
At 18, he was directing live television shows and documentaries, including “The People vs. Paul Crump,” which won an award at the San Francisco International Film Festival.
Friedkin directed one of the last episodes of “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” titled “Off Season” in 1965. He moved to Hollywood in 1965 and started his career directing feature films with “Good Times,” starring Sonny and Cher.
After directing several other films, Friedkin broke out with “The French Connection” in 1971. It won five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director for Friedkin, and Best Actor for Gene Hackman.
Friedkin spoke of how Costa-Gavras’ film “Z” influenced how he made “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.”
Two years later, Friedkin directed “The Exorcist,” which won 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, winning for Best Screenplay and Best Sound.
Friedkin later directed 1977’s “Sorcerer,” which he considered his best film. Films like “The Brink’s Job” and “Cruising,” followed before he had a heart attack in 1981.
In 1985, Friedkin’s “To Live and Die in LA” was released and praised by critics; in 1995 he directed one of his favorite films, “Jade.” In 2000, he directed “Rules of Engagement,” starring Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel Jackson — an astonishingly conservative film considering it came out of Hollywood — regarding the U.S. military.
Among his favorite films, Friedkin said he liked “Alien,” “Blade Runner,” and “Bullitt,” and said he truly respected Steve McQueen as an actor, saying he was a very “underrated but sensational American film actor.”
Friedkin was married four times; to actress Jeanne Moreau, actress Lesley Anne-Down, news anchor Kelly Lange, and finally former Paramount Pictures head Sherry Lansing, to whom he was married at the time of his death.