Perhaps it's fitting that the death of William Peter Blatty was announced on Friday the 13th, a date forever associated with bad luck and superstition. After all, Blatty wrote the book and then the screenplay for the film many moviegoers list as the scariest they've ever seen, 1973's "The Exorcist."
Blatty, 89, died of multiple myeloma on Thursday, his wife, Julie, told The New York Times.
The author was a Hollywood comedy writer when he wrote the horror novel in 1971, basing it on an idea from decades before. According to the Times, Blatty was a student at Georgetown University when he spotted this article in the Washington Post, telling of a supposed exorcism.
The enormous success of "The Exorcist" ended Blatty's comedy career, the Times notes, "making him for all practical purposes the foremost writer in a new hybrid genre: theological horror." He would go on to write "Legion," a 1983 novel which became the 1990s film "The Exorcist III," as well as other novels.
Watching "The Exorcist" today reminds us how much horror movies have changed since 1973, when it became the first horror movie ever nominated for best picture. (It lost to "The Sting," but Blatty won for best adapted screenplay, and the film also won for best sound mixing.) You won't see jump scares, torture porn or unrelenting gore. But there's a chill throughout the film, a realism despite pea-soup vomit and horrible obscenities issuing from the mouth of 12-year-old Regan (Linda Blair).
The late critic Roger Ebert called "The Exorcist" "one of the best movies of its type ever made," but he didn't hand it a ringing endorsement. "I am not sure exactly what reasons people will have for seeing this movie," Ebert wrote. "Surely enjoyment won't be one, because what we get here aren't the delicious chills of a Vincent Price thriller, but raw and painful experience."
Yet whatever their reasons, moviegoers made it one of the highest-grossing films in history, and it's impossible to find a "scariest movies of all time" list without "The Exorcist" ranked high.
William Friedkin, who directed "The Exorcist," tweeted Friday about the loss of his friend, in a message retweeted more than 3,200 times.
Blatty is survived by his wife and six children. His son Peter died at age 19, and Blatty wrote the 2015 book, "Finding Peter," about the family's grief, and his own belief that Peter was sending messages from beyond.
"Death is not a separation," Blatty wrote in the book. "When our loved one dies, they do not leave us. They remain. They do not go to some distant place. They simply begin their eternity."
Technically Literate: Original works of short fiction with unique perspectives on tech, exclusively on CNET. You can read them here.
Solving for XX: The industry seeks to overcome outdated ideas about "women in tech." Take a look here.