Novelist and filmmaker William Peter Blatty, who conjured a tale of demonic possession and gave millions the fright of their lives with the best-selling novel and Oscar-winning movie The Exorcist, has died at the age of 89, the AP reports. Blatty died Thursday at a hospital in Bethesda, Md., of multiple myeloma, per his widow, Julie Alicia Blatty. Inspired by an incident in a Washington suburb that Blatty had read about while in college, The Exorcist was published in 1971, followed two years later by the film of the same name. Blatty's story of a 12-year-old girl inhabited by a satanic force spent more than a year on the New York Times fiction best-seller list and eventually sold more than 10 million copies. It reached a far wider audience through the film, written by Blatty and starring Linda Blair. "RIP William Peter Blatty, who wrote the great horror novel of our time," Stephen King tweeted Friday.
The son of Lebanese immigrants, Blatty was born in New York City and was a scholarship student at the Jesuit high school Brooklyn Preparatory, graduating as valedictorian. He attended Georgetown and earned a master's in English lit from George Washington University. He took many detours during his career journey, selling vacuum cleaners, driving a beer truck, and auditioning for a role in Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (he alleged he was turned down because his eyes were blue). By the end of the '60s, in a state of "financial desperation" he finally got around to a novel he'd been thinking about for years, remembering a Washington Post report from the late 1940s in which a 14-year-old boy from Maryland was reportedly possessed. "When I heard about this case and read the details, that seemed so compelling," he said. Blatty was married four times and had eight children. (Read more obituary stories.)