My friend Billy: Mark Kermode remembers The Exorcist director William Friedkin

The Observer film critic on his hero, who died last week aged 87, a man dedicated to telling stories his way and who had a wicked sense of humour

By Mark Kermode

In his excellent 1990 biography, Hurricane Billy: The Stormy Life and Films of William Friedkin, writer Nat Segaloff quotes the Oscar-winning film-maker as wryly observing: “You know what it’s going to say on my tombstone? It’s going to say ‘The Man Who Directed The Exorcist.’” As someone who has spent a lifetime declaring The Exorcist (1973) to be the greatest movie ever made, I understand how it might perhaps have overshadowed a career that was as long as it was varied.

William Friedkin
Directing Gene Hackman in The French Connection

Yet Friedkin, whom I first met back in the 1990s when I was a starstruck fan (which I remained), did so much more than helm the movie that changed my life – and the lives of many others. He proved himself one of the most fearless and inventive directors of his generation, working in a string of genres – from musical comedy to serious psychodrama; political satire to police thriller; stage play adaptations to tales of supernatural terror – with equal ease and enthusiasm.

My initial encounter with Friedkin – whom everyone called Billy – was on the phone, in 1990, when I interviewed him about his bonkers psycho-nanny/killer-tree movie (yes, really), The Guardian. The reviews had not been good, but Friedkin was typically unfazed. Back in 1977, the reviews for his Wages of Fear remake Sorcerer had also been excoriating and the film had been a major box-office flop. Yet Sorcerer is now widely acknowledged to be one of Friedkin’s finest films – a gruellingly nihilistic exercise in nail-biting suspense; a hellish journey into the heart of darkness. Crucially, Friedkin understood that not every film finds its audience first time around, and so he was equally upbeat when the erotic thriller Jade took a similar drubbing in 1995, defiantly telling me at the time that it was “probably my favourite movie”. (He later said he’d been joking, but I think in the moment he meant it.)

I met Friedkin in person for the first time in 1991, when I went to LA to interview him for the Channel 4 documentary Fear in the Dark. I expected him to be a dark and brooding presence but he was quite the opposite – casually dressed, hugely relaxed and positively playful in his demeanour. On camera he was charming and funny, talking enthusiastically about his love of Psycho (“It wrestles you to the ground”), asking me if liked opera (I knew nothing about the subject), and hilariously declaring on camera that he “couldn’t give a flying fuck into a rolling doughnut” that The Exorcist didn’t win best picture in 1974 because it was “clearly the best picture of the year”. Ha!

Our paths crossed again in 1997 after he picked up a copy of my BFI modern classics volume on The Exorcist in an LA bookstore. The phone rang, and when I heard the words “I have Billy Friedkin on the line for you”, I went weak at the knees, convinced he was calling to demand who the hell I thought I was, writing a book about his movie. To my relief, he told me he thought the book was “great” and he’d bought all the copies in the store! Relieved, I immediately proposed a documentary to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the film. The result was The Fear of God (1998, currently on BBC iPlayer) in which he and the film’s writer and producer, William Peter Blatty, looked back on their differing visions of The Exorcist, while cast and crew remembered the enormous (and often alarming) challenges of making that electrifying movie.

Throughout his career, Friedkin never shied away from a challenge, insisting that if a film had a good story – whatever the genre – then he was game. His earliest works include the 1962 documentary The People v Paul Crump, which was partly credited with the commutation of its subject’s death sentence. Decades later, I had the privilege of collaborating with Friedkin on the narration for his demonic-possession documentary The Devil and Father Amorth (2017), although despite my co-writer credit, the voice of that film remains solely and unmistakably Friedkin’s. (I remember standing on one leg in the corner of a car park in Cornwall, trying to get a phone signal to Friedkin in LA, and shouting “It’s not about faith, it’s about doubt” to the bemusement of the seagulls.)

Having directed one of the last episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1965 (“Did Hitchcock give you any advice?”; “Yes, he said ‘Our directors usually wear ties’”), Friedkin made his feature film debut with the Sonny and Cher vehicle Good Times (1967), which he presciently described as a cautionary tale about “selling your soul to the devil”He brought Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party and Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band to the screen in 1968 and 1970 respectively, and directed Bert Lahr in his final role in the nostalgic burlesque romp The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968), alongside Britt Ekland, Jason Robards and Norman Wisdom. Yes, really.

Linda Blair, Max von Sydow and Jason Miller in The Exorcist (1973).
Linda Blair, Max von Sydow and Jason Miller in The Exorcist (1973). Photograph: Allstar/Hoya Productions

But it was with the best picture Oscar winner The French Connection (1971) that Friedkin really made his mark, adapting the true story of a record-breaking drugs bust into an edge-of-your-seat thriller that took stylistic inspiration from Costa-Gavras’s (1969), and looked more like a documentary than a drama. It was that sense of verité grit and realism that convinced Blatty that Friedkin was the only director who could bring his supernatural bestseller The Exorcist to the screen, making audiences believe that what they were watching was real. Continue reading

Fans are re-sharing Sinead O’Connor’s cover of Nirvana’s ‘All Apologies’

“Friendly reminder that Sinéad O’Connor also did one of the best Nirvana covers of all time”

Fans have been re-sharing Sinead O’Connor‘s cover of Nirvana‘s track ‘All Apologies’ in light of the Irish singer’s passing.

Her cover of the grunge hit was featured as the seventh track on her fourth studio album, 1994’s ‘Universal Mother’. O’Connor’s version of the song also transforms the Nirvana track into an acoustic ballad and the accompanying video features O’Connor singing in front of a house.

‘All Apologies’ was the second single from Nirvana’s third LP, 1993’s ‘In Utero’. It is most known for the stripped down version that the band played during their famous MTV Unplugged session.

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Sinéad O’Connor: Irish singer dies aged 56

The Nothing Compares 2 U singer sold millions of albums and was praised for her activism.

Irish singer and activist Sinéad O’Connor has died at the age of 56.

In a statement, the singer’s family said: “It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved Sinéad.

“Her family and friends are devastated and have requested privacy at this very difficult time.”

She was best known for her single Nothing Compares 2 U, released in 1990, which went on to hit number one around the world.

Taoiseach (Irish PM) Leo Varadkar paid tribute to her, saying her music “was loved around the world and her talent was unmatched and beyond compare”. [ . . . ]

CONTINUE READING AT BBC: Sinéad O’Connor: Irish singer dies aged 56

Sinéad O’Connor was found unresponsive in London flat, says Met

Scotland Yard says Irish singer’s death, just weeks after she moved to UK capital, is not being treated as suspicious

By Rory Carroll

Police officers found Sinéad O’Connor unresponsive in a London flat on Wednesday just weeks after she had moved to the city, it has emerged.

The Metropolitan police said in a statement on Thursday that officers were called at 11.18am on Wednesday to reports of an “unresponsive woman” at a residential address in the Herne Hill area of south London


“Officers attended. A 56-year-old woman was pronounced dead at the scene. Next of kin have been notified. The death is not being treated as suspicious. A file will be prepared for the coroner.”

O’Connor’s family broke the news of the Irish singer’s death in a brief statement on Wednesday evening, prompting mourning and tributes from artists and others around the world.

In a Twitter video post shared on 9 July O’Connor filmed herself at a flat, saying she had moved to London and intended to record new songs.

“I’ll make a video because some of you are saying you don’t believe it’s my account; it is my account. But fret not, I’m going to be a good girl,” she said. “I look like shit either way, which is why I didn’t want to make a video.”

Referring to the death of her 17-year-old son, Shane, who died 18 months ago after leaving a hospital while on suicide watch, she said: “But you know the way your kid, unfortunately, passes away, it isn’t good for one’s body or soul to be fair. But anyways, let’s not dwell on that.”

The camera panned around the living room and kitchen, showing a vase with sunflowers and a guitar, which O’Connor said she intended to use to compose songs. The Dubliner had lived in London intermittently over the decades.

Tributes continued to flow. “What Ireland has lost at such a relatively young age is one of our greatest and most gifted composers, songwriters and performers of recent decades, one who had a unique talent and extraordinary connection with her audience, all of whom held such love and warmth for her,” said the Irish president, Michael D Higgins. “May her spirit find the peace she sought in so many different ways.”

In a social media post, the singer Morrissey accused some celebrities of appreciating O’Connor only after her death. “You praise her now ONLY because it is too late. You hadn’t the guts to support her when she was alive and she was looking for you.”

 In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116 123, or email or In the US, you can chat on, or text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at

Source: Sinéad O’Connor was found unresponsive in London flat, says Met

Julian Sands had the heart of a child-man in which scorpions and bluebirds nested

Byrne worked with the late Sands on three films – Gothic, Siesta and All Things to All Men. He remembers a fierce, mysterious and much-loved man, fearless as both actor and adventurer

By Gabriel Byrne

Over the last few months, images of Julian have been recurring in my mind.

A summer morning, so many years ago, filming Gothic in Berkshire. Julian, Natasha Richardson and myself lounging beneath a cedar tree.

A sun-blessed day. Suddenly, an unexpected thunderstorm.

“Isn’t it dangerous to shelter under trees,” said Natasha, laughing. Julian jiggled madly in the rain to some wild music in his head until his costume was sodden and he lay prostrate in the mud. He shouted: “I am too much restrained by narrative prose, Byron!”

Timothy Spall, Natasha Richardson, Julian Sands and Gabriel Byrne in Gothic.
Timothy Spall, Natasha Richardson, Sands and Gabriel Byrne in Gothic (1986). Photograph: TCD/Prod.DB/Alamy

He played Shelley in the film, Natasha was Mary and I was Byron. It was a surreal gothic-horror directed by Ken Russell. Nightmare and hallucination, drugs and poetry; the Romantic poets as drugged-up rockstars.


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