Francis Ford Coppola hails William Friedkin as ‘a deep-feeling giant of a man’

The Godfather director said Friedkin’s work ‘represents true milestones in cinema’ and that all of his films were ‘alive with genius’.

Francis Ford Coppola has remembered William Friedkin as a “deep-feeling giant of a man” and “my first friend among the filmmakers of my generation”.

The Godfather director said Friedkin’s work “represents true milestones in cinema” and that all of his films were “alive with genius”.

Friedkin, who was the mastermind behind horror classic The Exorcist and The French Connection, died at his home from heart failure and pneumonia on Monday in Los Angeles at the age of 87.

Obit William Friedkin
Director William Friedkin died on Monday at the age of 87 (Michel Spingler/AP)

Fellow Hollywood directors and industry heavyweights including Guillermo del Toro, Ben Stiller and Eli Roth were among those posting tributes following the news.

In a statement shared with the PA news agency, Coppola said: “William Friedkin was my first friend among the filmmakers of my generation and I grieve for the loss of a  much-loved companion.

“His accomplishments in Cinema are extraordinary and unique. He is the only colleague I knew whose work actually saved a man’s life (The People Vs Paul Crump)

“Billy’s work represents true milestones in Cinema, a list which will never be forgotten; certainly The French Connection, The Exorcist and Sorcerer, but all of his films are alive with his genius.

“Pick any of them out of a hat and you’ll be dazzled. His lovable, irascible  personality was a cover for a beautiful, brilliant,  deep-feeling giant of a man.

“It’s very hard to grasp that I will never enjoy his company again, but his work will at least stand in for him.”

Identified with the so-called “New Hollywood” movement of the 1970s, Friedkin rose to prominence with 1971’s action thriller The French Connection, which received a host of awards including five Oscars.

Among the collection was the prize for best picture, best actor for Gene Hackman and best director for Friedkin.

He followed with an even bigger blockbuster, The Exorcist, based on William Peter Blatty’s best-selling novel about a 12-year-old girl possessed by the devil.

It also won the Oscar for best screenplay and garnered Friedkin another nomination for best director.

Actress Ellen Burstyn, who was nominated for an Oscar for her starring role in The Exorcist, described him as “undoubtedly a genius”.

“My friend Bill Friedkin was an original; smart, cultured, fearless and wildly talented,” she said in a statement to the PA news agency.

Fellow Oscar-winning director del Toro, behind films including Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape Of Water, said “the world has lost one of the gods of cinema”.

He added: “Cinema has lost a true scholar and I have lost a dear, loyal and true friend. William Friedkin has left us. We were blessed to have him.”

Roth, best known for horror films 2002’s Cabin Fever and 2005’s Hostel, described Friedkin as a “legend” and “one of a kind”.

He shared a photo of them together to his Instagram and wrote: “One of the most impactful directors of all time and certainly set the course of my life in a different direction with The Exorcist.

“He was so incredibly nice and supportive the few times I was lucky enough to meet him.”

He also encouraged his followers to watch Friedkin’s 1977 thriller Sorcerer and 1980’s Cruising if they had not seen them yet.

Stiller, known for his comedic acting career as well as directing, said Friedkin’s work was “truly iconic”.

“Creativity, humility, and passion. Feel lucky to have grown up in the era of his classic films and have them imprinted in my movie dna,” he wrote.

Other members of the industry praising Friedkin online included Star Wars star Mark Hamill, Lord Of The Rings star Elijah Wood, and acclaimed horror author Stephen King.

Hamill wrote: “A master of cinema is gone. His legacy will last for eternity. Thank you Mr Friedkin.”

Wood hailed Friedkin as a “true cinematic master whose influence will continue to extend forever”.

Alongside a black and white photo of the filmmaker on set, Wood added: “So long, William Friedkin.”

Friedkin latest project was an upcoming legal drama, titled The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, which is scheduled to premiere at the Venice International Film Festival in September.

Actor Kiefer Sutherland, who stars in the film, told PA that working with the director was “one of the great honours of my career”.

His other film credits include To Live And Die In LA, Rules Of Engagement and a TV remake of the classic play and Sidney Lumet movie 12 Angry Men.

Friedkin also directed episodes for TV shows such as The Twilight Zone, Rebel Highway and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

He is survived by his wife Sherry Lansing and sons Cedric and Jack.

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