William Peter Blatty, the man behind what is considered to be the most frightening movie in all cinematic history, has passed away on January 12th, just days after his 89th birthday.
Blatty wrote the novel, “The Exorcist,” in 1971, and went on to also write the screenplay for the infamous film adaptation that most are familiar with. For his screenplay, Blatty won a well-earned Academy Award.
The son of Lebanese parents who emigrated to America, Blatty was well-acquainted with religion from an early age. His mother, the deeply Catholic niece of a Bishop, raised him alone after his father, Peter Blatty, left the family.
Blatty attended a Jesuit school, and later, George Washington University, where he earned a master’s degree in English Literature, but went on to take on a series of odd jobs, even enlisting in the U.S. Air Force and working within its Psychological Warfare Division for a time.
But when a friend reminded him of an old, lost dream—the dream of publishing and entertaining—Blatty finally found his calling.
After penning a series of well-reviewed comic novels, Blatty rented a remote chalet within the darkened forests bordering Lake Tahoe. It was here that he would write the novel that brought him to fame.
The Exorcist, a story about a young girl who is possessed by a demonic entity, tapped into something primal and fearful within readers, and remained on the New York Times bestseller list for 57 weeks, and at the top spot for 17 of those weeks.
Later, his novel was adapted by director William Fredkin and himself into “The Exorcist”—the most famous horror movie of all time, which went on to win not only an Academy Award, but Golden Globes for best picture and best writing. The success of his work brought wealth, fame, and security to a man who grew up poor and “comfortably destitute”.
Blatty’s experience with the supernatural wasn’t confined to his writing. A man of faith, Blatty’s upbringing by a Catholic mother, and by the surrogate Jesuit fathers which passed through his life, left him with all the tools he needed to be a deeply effective Catholic writer.
In the acknowledgements for “The Exorcist,” Blatty thanks English Professor Bernard Wagner for “teaching me to write,” and the Jesuits for “teaching me to think”.
The seeds of his interest in supernatural evil were sown one day as a Georgetown professor mentioned a case of demonic possession that had occurred nearby. “I remember thinking, ‘Boy, if somebody would dig into this and authenticate it and show that it’s the real thing, what a gift to the faith,” said Blatty, in an interview with Washingtonian. “It stayed in my mind, and I thought maybe someday I’d try to write a nonfiction account.”
But while his novel did end up in the realm of fiction, Blatty never intended “The Exorcist” to be mere entertainment.
“It’s an argument for God,” he said, of the novel and subsequent film. “I intended it to be an apostolic work, to help people in the in faith. Because I thoroughly believed in the authenticity and validity of that particular event.”
Rare are men like Blatty—figures of faith that dare to venture into the darkness in order to help us better appreciate the light. But we’re not bereft of this with Blatty’s passing; contemporary directors like Scott Derrickson have taken up the torch and continue to bring audiences face-to-face with evil through the lens of faith.
William Peter Blatty, though, left a mark on our culture that will never fully fade away—a mark that connects the literary world with the realm of faith, and one that connects audiences to the possibilities and mysteries of the spiritual world.
He was a friend of the Dalai Lama. He talked spirituality with Aldous Huxley. He transcended through peyote with Native Americans. He moved in academic circles, defending and defining the value of religions in an era marked by a distinct distaste for faith.
His name was Huston Smith, and he passed away on December 30th, at the age of 97.
Smith was a man who gained national attention by, quite literally, writing the book on world religions—his 1958 text, “The World’s Religions,” went on to sell nearly 4 million copies, and remains one of the most oft-used academic textbooks on the subject.
Before Smith’s debut, the modernist take on religion was that it was, at best, a waste of time, and at worst, a tool used to control humanity.
Sigmund Freud, whose psychological theories were prominent in Smith’s heyday, called religion a delusion, a sort of willful ignorance created by mankind to comfort itself in a world it couldn’t explain. Carl Marx made the now-cliché argument that religion was the “opiate of the masses”. In the 1950s, most religious scholars explained religion as an antiquated way of thought—something mankind had outgrown.
But Smith’s work did something new, something wonderful. His scholarship depicted religions not only with accuracy, but with reverence, a lack of judgment, and the mindset that these belief systems held potential truth—something no one else was doing, at the time.
Where other scholars mocked religion, he took it seriously, describing world religions as their adherents understood them rather than filtering everything through a modernist, postmodernist, or Western lens. Although Smith was quick to note the imperfection of religion throughout human history, he also noted the art, morality, meaning, and even joy that it has brought, and continues to bring to the faithful.
Also unique was Smith’s method of research. Describing his methodology, Smith said, “First I read their sacred scriptures – including the profound and trusted commentaries on those scriptures. Second, I sought out the most authentic and profound living representatives of those views and asked them questions. And third, I would jump into the religions myself—as a participant observer, doing the rituals and practices they prescribed to get an insider’s view.” This was in stark opposition to most religious studies professors, who largely kept to their offices.
This is the key to the timeless quality of Smith’s work—it describes each religious tradition from the inside, intimately and truthfully, almost as if he had sincerely converted to each and every faith he studied.
Today, contemporary religious scholarship largely follows Smith’s example, and his work ensured the preservation of our religious human heritage in academia, rather than its relegation to the dustbin of history. In the past century, there have been few supporters of world religious traditions that have worked so hard and so well to show their value to humankind.
We would do well to follow his example, and learn to recognize and respect one another’s traditions as both valid and beneficial. Huston’s example as a cultural bridge-builder, a teacher, and a non-judgmental scholar leave a legacy that will continue to inspire future generations to be open to the idea that there very well may be more things in heaven and earth than we know, that there may be some mysteries that can only be explored through faith.
Hollywood and the world lost another royal member, sadly.
Actress Debbie Reynolds, the mother of Carrie Fisher, died from complications from a stroke on Wednesday at the age of 84.
The actress who represented the golden era of Hollywood passed away only 1 day after her daughter tragically died from a heart attack. Fisher was rushed to UCLA Medical Center when she went into cardiac arrest minutes before landing on Dec. 23.
Her mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, Tweeted: “Carrie is in stable condition. “If there is a change, we will share it. For all her fans & friends. I thank you for your prayers & good wishes.” But there was little news about the actress until this morning.
Fisher was on a book tour for The Princess Diarists, where she admitted to having a 3-month affair with co-star Harrison Ford while filming “Star Wars” in 1977.
Reynolds was rushed to the hospital after 1 p.m. when someone called 911 to report that she was having a stroke at her Beverly Hills home. At the time they were making funeral arrangements for Carrie. Her son Todd Fisher said: “She spoke to me this morning and said she missed Carrie,” Todd Fisher told CNN on Wednesday. “She’s with Carrie now.”
She was born Mary Frances Reynolds and her father called her “Debbie,” and the name stuck. Reynolds rose to fame for her role in the musical “Singin’ in the Rain” in 1952 and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” in 1964. She jokingly said that making the film and “childbirth are two of the hardest things I ever had to do in my life.” She was Hollywood’s darling and the girl next door that everyone loved, but she never won an Academy Award.
“I have no regrets about my career. I’m just thrilled I’ve had it. You know, it stood by me. Marriages failed; my career always stayed. It gave me the fun of life, you know. It allowed me to travel and meet wonderful, funny people,” she told CNN in 1990.
Reynolds had a turbulent personal life with the marriage of singer Eddie Fish, who left her for the sultry Elizabeth Taylor, a friend of hers. It was a huge love triangle and scandal. “We were friends for years and years,” People magazine reported in 2015. “We had a lapse of time when she took Eddie to live with her because she liked him, too. She liked him well enough to take him without an invitation!” She married again 2 more times, but they ultimately failed as well.
Reynolds continued being in the limelight as a business woman and a humanitarian. She opened her own dance studio and performed on Broadway in Las Vegas nightclubs.
She was praised as being a kind person who loved helping others.
“I was blessed by the almighty in having this wonderful sister who taught me so much in life,” Friend and actress Ruta Lee told CNN. “Debbie was without a doubt one of the most generous, wonderful, loving human beings that God put on this Earth.”
There is a bright spot to this misfortune. Mother and daughter will be forever united.
“Star Wars” icon Carrie Fisher died Tuesday morning after suffering a massive heart attack on her flight from London to Los Angeles.
“It is with a very deep sadness that Billie Lourd confirms that her beloved mother, Carrie Fisher, passed away at 8:55 this morning,” a family spokesman, Simon Hall, wrote in a statement.
Fisher was rushed to UCLA Medical Center when she went into cardiac arrest minutes before landing on Dec.23. Her mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, Tweeted: “Carrie is in stable condition. “If there is a change, we will share it. For all her fans & friends. I thank you for your prayers & good wishes.” But there was little news about the actress until this morning.
Fisher was on a book tour for The Princess Diarists, where she admitted to having a 3-month affair with co-star Harrison Ford while filming “Star Wars” in 1977. Ford has not confirmed or denied the affair.
While many remember Fisher in her role as Princess Leia–she also made a name for herself in films like “When Harry Met Sally” at the height of her career in the 1980s. She wrote a few books and was an advocate for mental health. Fisher battled bipolar and substance abuse for many years. “I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on. Better me than you,” she said. I’m fine, but I’m bipolar. I’m on seven medications, and I take medication three times a day. This constantly puts me in touch with the illness I have. I’m never quite allowed to be free of that for a day. It’s like being a diabetic.”
Fisher was born into a famous family. She is the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and started acting in theater at the age of 15. Her first taste of being on stage was on Broadway in the show “Irene.” She got her first break in Hollywood in “Shampoo” that starred Warren Beatty in 1975. But when she won the iconic role of Leia in the “Star Wars” franchise she became a household name and an international hit. Fisher reprised her role in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” that was released in 2015.
We will miss the doubled-bun princess as she travels to a galaxy far away.