William Friedkin Biography

William Friedkin photo

Born: August 29, 1939


Date of Birth: August 29, 1939

Beginning his career in the mailroom at WGN-TV, in Chicago, Illinois, Friedkin started directing live television within two years of his employment at the station. Friedkin's mother was an operating room nurse and his father was a merchant seaman. Friedkin became infatuated with Orson Welles after seeing Citizen Kane, and went to work for WGN immediately after graduating from high school.

For the next eight years, he directed more than 2,000 live programs including Bonz's Big Top and award-winning news documentaries. In 1965, he moved to Hollywood and immediately started directing TV shows, including an episode of the Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

In 1967 Friedkin directed his first feature film, the Sonny and Cher vehicle Good Times. Ignoring reports that the young director was rather full of himself, producer Norman Lear was impressed enough with Good Times to entrust Friedkin with the 1967 nostalgic comedy The Night They Raided Minsky's.

During the late '60s and early '70s with the youth movement, Woodstock, and the Vietnam War, drugs became part of the American culture. The French Connection (1971) was a sharp, gritty exposé of the drug world and won Friedkin a Best Director Oscar and a nomination for Best Picture.

He followed this up with The Exorcist(1973), one of the most horrifying films of all time which received 10 Academy Award nominations including Best Director and Best Picture. But despite an excellent box-office showing, both The Exorcist and Friedkin were frozen out of the Oscar race.

Around the same time that The Exorcist was filmed, Friedkin formed the Directors Company along with Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Bogdanovich; he withdrew from the group in 1974.

Friedkin's post-Exorcist projects have been a mixed bag artistically and major disappointments financially. He worked in both mediums directing television shows like C.A.T. Squad and an episode of Tales from the Crypt, and films like Rampage (1988), The Guardian (1990), Blue Chips (1994) and Jade (1995). His next few titles came after a few years with 2000's Rules of Engagement starring Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson, The Hunted (2003) again with Tommy Lee Jones, Bug (2006) with Ashley Judd, and most recently, Killer Joe with Matthew McConaughey and Emile Hirsch. This latest project premiered at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.

The director has also made an occasional attempt at writing film scripts. In 1997, Friedkin directed a television remake of the classic courtroom drama Twelve Angry Men, which was nominated for six Emmy Awards including Outstanding Directorial Achievement for Best Dramatic Special. Later on that year, Friedkin was immortalized with a star on the Walk of Fame.

Apparently more lucky in film than he is in love, Friedkin has been married four times and has a son from his second marriage. He is presently married to film producer Sherry Lansing.


Killer Joe (2012)
Bug (2006)
The Hunted (2003)
Rules of Engagement (2000)
Jade (1995)
Blue Chips (1994)
The Guardian (1990)
Rampage (1988)
To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)
Deal of the Century (1983)
Cruising (1980)
The Brink's Job (1978)
Sorcerer (1977)
The Exorcist (1973)
The French Connection (1971)
The Boys in the Band (1970)
The Birthday Party (1968)
The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968)
Good Times (1967)
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