Friday, April 19, 2024

RIP William Friedkin, Oscar Winning Director of The French Connection Was the First Auteur To Take Town by Storm


Everyone used to call him Billy Friedkin. William Friedkin has died at age 87 after a rollercoaster life in Hollywood. His back to back hits, “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist,” just preceded the Spielberg-Coppola-Scorsese barrage that followed. Friedkin was the first auteur of the new world of film in 1970 and rode the wave right til the end.

Let’s not diminish that he loved the Hollywood image. He was married to newscaster Kelly Lange, and then to actresses Lesley Anne Warren and French superstar Jeanne Moreau. His final and longest marriage was to genius Hollywood exec Sherry Lansing, in a real love match. Condolences to her and the family.

Friedkin had a lot of trouble on “The Night They Raided Misnky’s,” but it was a hit in 1968 and led to “The Boys in the Band,” which was very cutting edge at the time. Then came “The French Connection” and Gene Hackman and all its Oscars (five including Picture, Director, Actor in 1971. That set him up for life. So to come right back with “The Exorcist” two years later — with people fainting in screenings, women being carried, etc — was remarkable. Friedkin was a legend at a young age.

The rest of the career includes some questionable things like “Cruisin;” and a surprise hit with “To Live and Die in LA.” I met him in 1978 in Boston. I was going to college, he was shooting “The Brinks Job” with Peter Falk. The prep was during the winter, during a now historic snowstorm. But there was also one going on within the production. Cocaine everywhere. Hollywood comes to Boston. Jeanne Moreau visited him at the Copley Plaza. She and I discussed it years later. It was a surreal moment in time. (The movie isn’t very good.)

But Billy Friedkin is in the history books regardless. All you need is one classic that influences generations of filmmakers. That’s “The French Connection.” He won’t be forgotten.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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