William Peter Blatty passed away during the night of January 12, 2017 at the age of 89. He was considered by many to be one of the greatest writers from the 20th and 21st centuries. His work retained a slight amount of fantasy in a world composed of truth, formed over the years by his own personal experiences. Everything, from his autobiographical novel, Which Way to Mecca, Jack? to the Ivan Karamazov-like discourses in Legion, were truly unique.
Blatty is best known for writing the novel, The Exorcist, and adapting it for the screen with friend and director, William Friedkin. However, Blatty’s stake in cinema existed long before his adaptation of his iconic horror novel, writing the screenplays for some of his other works, including John Goldfarb and Please Come Home! He even wrote for popular film franchises, drafting the screenplay for The Pink Panther sequel, A Shot in the Dark.
He was born in New York City from Lebanese immigrants, and moved from apartment to apartment with his family due to constant eviction. As a child, he was brought up with a strict catholic-based education, and attended Brooklyn Prepatory and George Washington University. His early adult life was no less strenuous, working as a vacuum salesman, truck driver, United Airlines ticket agent, before enlisting in the Air Force.
“He thought of death in its infinite groanings, of Aztecs ripping out living hearts and of cancer and thee-year-olds buried alive and he wondered whether God was alien and cruel, but then remembered Beethoven and the dapplings of the things and the lark and ‘Hurrah for Karamazov’ and kindness.”
– Opening lines of Legion.
His path led from writing for page and for the screen. Post-Exorcist success, Blatty wrote The Ninth Configuration, a rewrite of an earlier novel, Twinkle, Twinkle, “Killer” Kane. With one of the most minute characters from The Exorcist, Astronaut Billy Cutshaw, Blatty delves into the meat of his writing, following characters questioning the existence of God, being afraid of there being and not being a God, but most of all, following characters afraid of being alone.
“See the stars? So cold? So far away? And so very lonely–oh so lonely. All that space, just empty space and so…far away from home…I’ve circled round and round this house…orbit after orbit. And sometimes I’d wonder what it’s like just never to stop; just to circle around up there…forever…And then what if I got up there–got to the moon–and then couldn’t get back? I know everyone dies; but I’m afraid to die alone–so far from home. And if God’s not alive, that’s really–really alone.”
– Billy Cutshaw, The Ninth Configuration
There could be volumes spoken about the life and work of William Peter Blatty. He is one of the penultimate artists of the last century and will be remembered long after. Blatty is survived by his wife, Julie Alicia Witbrodt, and his seven children and six grandchildren.