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The Exorcist Author William Peter Blatty Dies at 89

Updated

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

The man behind The Exorcist, author and filmmaker William Peter Blatty, has died at 89.

Blatty died Thursday at a hospital near his home in Bethesda, Md., his widow, Julie Alicia Blatty, told the Associated Press, adding that the cause of death was multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer.

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

A former Jesuit student, Blatty was inspired by a line from the gospel, “Satan and the other evil spirits who roam through the world, seeking the ruin of souls.” After being further inspired by the 1949 exorcism of a boy in Maryland, Blatty spun his ideas into a New York Times best-seller.

After The Exorcist was published in 1971, Blatty proceeded to write and produce the movie, which was released two years later. His tale of a 12-year-old girl possessed by a demonic force went on to sell more than 10 million copies.

When the film was released, audiences were shocked by now infamous scenes like when the little girl, played by Linda Blair, has her head turn 180 degrees or projectile vomits. At the time, rumors spread that the film was so scary audience members were fainting and vomiting in their seats. One report even claimed a girl was institutionalized after seeing The Exorcist. 

Asked if the visceral response from some audience members bothered him, Blatty told PEOPLE in its very first issue in 1974, “No. First, the film is designed to have a powerful emotional impact. A sermon that people sleep through is utterly useless. Second, the fainting is very, very rare and highly overdramatized. As I interpret the film on the moral level, it’s doing its job when people react with the shakes,” he said.

Despite the outrage from some movie goers, critics and priests, The Exorcist had enormous box office success, raking in $400 million worldwide at the box office, which was especially unusual for R-rated films. The movie also went on to be nominated for 10 Academy Awards and ended up winning for best sound and screenplay.