Linda Blair Has Made An Extraordinary Confession About The Curse Of The Exorcist

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It was Thursday, April 2, 2020, and a new documentary series was premiering on AMC’s horror-centric streaming service Shudder. The series in question was called Cursed Films, and its first episode was focused on the 1973 motion picture The Exorcist. During the episode Linda Blair – one of the film’s main stars – would make a chilling confession about how the “curse” of the movie affected her.

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The Exorcist is widely regarded as one of the most frightening movies ever made. Adapted from the 1971 novel by American author William Peter Blatty, it tells the tale of a young girl called Regan MacNeil – portrayed by Linda Blair – who messes with a Ouija board and begins to act strangely. By that, we mean she communicates in tongues and even floats above her bed. Her alarmed mom Chris – played by Ellen Burstyn – calls for medical aid, but without success.

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Eventually, the local priest Father Karras – played by Jason Miller – intervenes, believing that Regan has been possessed by Satan. This leads to an attempted exorcism by Father Merrin, who was played by Max von Sydow. Directed by the acclaimed filmmaker William Friedkin – who had helmed The French Connection before it – the movie was a huge hit with audiences. In fact, it raked in an astonishing $329 million worldwide at the box office.

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The Exorcist wasn’t just a hit with audiences, though. For the most part, critics liked it, too. It was hailed for its unique focus on demonic possession and its stirring depiction of it. Indeed, the horror movie’s excellence was underpinned by the fact that it was nominated for an astonishing 10 Oscars. This was a remarkable feat for a genre that, at the time, was often derided for being predicated on cheap scares.

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Thanks largely to The Exorcist, then, horror films from the early 1970s onwards began to be taken more seriously as legitimate cinematic art. However, despite its acclaim and box office success, the movie also gained a reputation that provoked fear and infamy. Indeed, The Exorcist became notorious for being “cursed.”

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Perhaps the demonic possession of Linda Blair’s Regan wasn’t the only curse that was inflicted by Satan or his minions during filming. No, it seems that the spooky, supernatural torment depicted in the film also jumped out of the screen and into the real lives of several actors who appeared in it. Indeed, this shocking “curse” of the film really needs to be heard to be believed.

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Apparently, the curse of The Exorcist even extended to numerous people who had merely watched it. At the time of its release in December 1973, reports arose of audience members having unwelcome reactions to the movie. These ranged from projectile vomiting, passing out and even cardiac arrest. The accuracy of all the reports is debatable, but there’s little doubt that the film was unsettling for many.

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So, what was the startling revelation that Linda Blair made in the recent Cursed Films series? Well, we will get to the full details of that a bit later. Firstly, though, we should consider more fully the origin of the movie, the rise of its child star, and its infamously troubled filming process.

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Let’s begin with Blair, then, who was cast in the central role of Regan. Linda Denise Blair was born in the Midwest city of St. Louis, Missouri, on January 22, 1959. She was the third-born of James Frederick and his wife Elinore Blair. She and her elder siblings Debbie and Jim moved with their parents to Westport, Connecticut, when Blair was still a toddler.

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Blair was born into a relatively wealthy family, with her parents both toiling in well-paid jobs. She effectively started working herself when she was just five years old, after her mother helped land her daughter modeling jobs. Blair appeared in ads for the likes of Macy’s, J.C. Penny’s and Sears. She appeared on the small screen in a TV commercial promoting Welch’s Jelly, and she started to be recognized as the “Cinderella Girl” through her regular appearances in The New York Times.

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But it was not cut and dried that Blair would go into acting. As a young girl, in fact, she acquired a deep affection for animal life, particularly so for horses. By the time she was six, she had started riding them and about four years later she purchased her own. Blair actually became a talented, competitive junior rider and harbored dreams of being a veterinarian.

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Nonetheless, it didn’t take long for Blair to make the transition from advertising to drama. In 1968 she made her acting debut in the TV Series Hidden Faces. Two years later, Blair made her first leap on to the silver screen, playing Sara Aldridge in the movie The Way We Live Now. In 1971 she appeared in The Sporting Club, yet she was considering quitting acting around this time to concentrate on her veterinarian dream.

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Her mom, however, advised her to take on at least a couple more roles before packing it in entirely. And not long after that, the role of a lifetime cropped up. Blair was selected from 600 candidates for the part of Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist. It would change her life forever – but not entirely in a positive way.

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Let’s turn our attention back to the movie. The Exorcist was, as we’ve mentioned, based on the William Peter Blatty novel that came out just a couple of years prior. Blatty – who also wrote the film’s screenplay and produced the movie – had been inspired to write his book after reading about the real-life case of a teenage boy from Maryland commonly referred to as Roland Doe.

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Doe – whose recently deceased aunt had once taught him to work a Ouija board – began acting out strangely and violently. His parents reportedly noticed unexplainable phenomena in their home, too. Items in their house, for instance, would supposedly move around of their own accord. Eventually, a Jesuit priest was brought in to perform exorcisms on the boy. This episode is believed to have been the final authorized Catholic exorcism in the U.S.

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Blatty saw the news report on the case in 1949 whilst he was studying at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. The fascinating story stuck in his mind, and numerous years later he got to work on writing something similar. But he first needed to fund his writing, which itself is an interesting story.

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Yes, Blatty actually won $10,000 on the Groucho Marx quiz program You Bet Your Life. He told the host that he intended to use his winnings to support him in writing a novel. The story he came to write eventually became a significant hit, climbing to the top of The New York Times bestseller list for 17 weeks. It stayed on the chart for a remarkable 57 weeks.

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After its critical success, Blatty got to work on adapting the novel into a screenplay. Academy Award-winning director William Friedkin – whose star was extremely high after the recent, multi-Oscar-winning success of The French Connection – was chosen by Blatty to helm the project. But Friedkin and Blatty would have to endure great difficulty with both the casting and filming process.

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Friedkin and Blatty came into conflict with studio bigwigs by casting largely unknown actors. Major stars of the era – such as Jack Nicholson, Audrey Hepburn, Stacey Keach, Anne Bancroft and Marlon Brando – were all considered. But the idea of casting the egotistical Brando was rejected by Friedkin. Bancroft, meanwhile, had become pregnant, and Hepburn ruled herself out by cheekily asking for filming to take place in Rome.

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Blatty and Friedkin eventually cast actors who were relative unknowns in Hollywood. Jason Miller had not even appeared on the big screen before, and the pair even took the liberty of casting a real-life Jesuit priest in William O’Malley. After meeting him, Friedkin managed to persuade him to portray the character of Father Dyer.

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Blair herself was cast in interesting circumstances. After passing over several candidates, Friedkin’s New York office received an unexpected visit from a mother and her daughter. The pair who turned up unannounced were Elinore Blair and her young daughter Linda. Friedkin quickly took to both of them. After being impressed by Blair’s personality, he questioned the young girl about the book and its scary and blasphemous content. Naturally, he wanted to see if she would be able to deal with it.

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Blair passed Friedkin’s test with flying colors, demonstrating that she had the mental fortitude to play Regan MacNeil. Once the cast was firmly in place, it was time for filming to begin. This took place over 11 months from August 1972 until July 1973. The shoot predominantly occurred in Iraq, New York, Georgetown in Washington D.C. and the Warner Bros. studios in Los Angeles.

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However, it would be a trying process for many of those involved. You see, during filming, a number of terrible events occurred that directly affected members of the cast and crew. This ultimately led to the widely circulated legend that the movie – which was loaded with Satanic and blasphemous content – was somehow “cursed.”

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Those tribulations – that almost seemed to be placed upon those involved in the movie by some sinister force – began to occur right near the start of the shooting of the movie. Firstly, in 1972 a major fire engulfed the set in New York City. This was caused by a wayward bird that had accidentally fluttered into an electric circuit box.

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No one was killed in the fire, which thankfully took place on a weekend when the actors were off work. Spookily, though, it managed to leave one particular area of the set completely undamaged. Yes, the room that was going to be used for filming the exorcism scenes with Regan came out of the blaze unscathed. Was it just a freakish coincidence, or was there something supernatural at play?

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Whatever the truth, the fire ensured that production was halted, thus extending the filming process and the budget. But things would then get much worse for those involved – and perhaps even spookier. You see, during filming a number of people connected with The Exorcist would tragically lose their lives.

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Among the dead were veteran Irish actor Jack MacGowran and Greek actress Vasiliki Mailiaros, whose characters also died in the movie. Others who passed away during the 11 months of filming included the individual in charge of refrigeration on the set and a night watchman. And if that wasn’t enough, the rising death toll spilled out of the movie and into the personal lives of the lead actors.

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Indeed, Blair and Max Van Sydow would lose a grandfather and a brother respectively. Their fellow cast member Jason Miller – who portrayed Father Karras – almost lost his son after he was severely injured by a motorcyclist. The assistant cameraman for the film wasn’t as lucky as him, however, as his recently born child tragically died. It was an astonishing death toll.

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But the chaos engulfing the project didn’t stop there. Two crew members – a carpenter and a lighting specialist – would lose a thumb and a toe respectively. Things got so bad that Friedkin even looked to have the set exorcised. He made a request to technical advisor Thomas Bermingham to do so, but this man believed it would only increase the unease on set. So, he opted to give a blessing to everyone instead.

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In The Fear of God: 25 Years of the Exorcist documentary from 1998, special effects guru Marcel Vercoutere recalled the sense of unease all these frightening events caused. In his words, “There was definitely a feeling it [something bad] could happen. I felt I was playing around with something I shouldn’t be playing around with.” But not all of the problems on set seemed to be emanating from somewhere unexplained.

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No, the director and his team were at least partly responsible for some of the turmoil on set. Friedkin, though highly regarded for his talent, was also a notoriously hard taskmaster. His pursuit of perfection often led him to cross the boundaries of normal behavior. For example, he would apparently go to great lengths to obtain the particular reaction he wanted to see on screen.

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To get the startled fear he desired, Friedkin would suddenly fire loud guns without notice to purposefully terrify his actors. Furthermore, a perceived lack of emotion from O’Malley’s Father Dyer in a scene led to the director taking unusual action. Friedkin slapped the real-life priest, before immediately reshooting the previously unsatisfactory moment.

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Burstyn, too, would later grumble about her treatment on set. When she confided to Friedkin that she was being dragged around the set for a scene too forcefully, the director took action. Except, instead of ordering his special effects guru Vercoutere to pull less intensely, he ordered him to do it harder. Burstyn was duly slung around the room like a rag-doll, writhing and shrieking in agony on the floor. Of course, Friedkin kept that authentic shot in the movie.

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“It was a very difficult film,” cinematographer Owen Roizman conceded in the The Fear of God: 25 Years of the Exorcist documentary. “Billy [Friedkin] was reaching for the limit. He was committed to it, and he was obsessed by it himself. And that obsession was contagious.” Burstyn was less charitable though, stating, “It was beyond what anyone needs to do to make a movie.”

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This brings us back to Blair, and the recent confession she made on the Shudder series Cursed Films in 2020. The now 61-year-old revealed the awful damage that the shooting process of the film had caused her when she was just a young girl. Indeed, the pain caused by the incident has continued to affect her ever since.

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Firstly, Blair was eager to attest to Friedkin’s exceptional abilities as a movie director. “Billy is a genius. When you work with somebody who is a genius you’re gonna go for a ride.” And go for a ride she most certainly did. Like her screen mom Burstyn, Blair’s body would be manipulated for dramatic effect. The actress explained, “I’m laced into this piece of equipment; it is literally manipulated by men. In this particular take, the lacing came lose.”

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The equipment that the young Blair was now only loosely tied to continued to operate – and with truly devastating consequences. “I am having my back pounded,” she recalled for the interviewer on the Cursed Films episode. “I mean, I’m crying, I’m screaming. [But] they think I’m acting up a storm.”

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The damage that was done to Blair was really quite significant. “It fractured my lower spine,” she revealed. Not that the worrying incident pushed the crew to immediately call for medical assistance. “No, they didn’t send me to a doctor,” she said. “It is the footage that is in the movie.”

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The magnitude of the back injury caused on that day has affected her whole life since, with Blair suffering chronic pain and requiring an operation to get her spine realigned. “I had a lot of difficulty living with the aftermath of The Exorcist,” she once said, according to a piece on the Hudson Valley Scoliosis Correction Center website. “The back injury was far more serious than I ever imagined and really affected my health negatively for a long time.”

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Alongside that, Blair also had to deal with death threats and stalkers in the wake of the film. Numerous people, it seems, were upset with the sacrilegious nature of the movie. It was a frightening time, and yet despite the physical and emotional pain it caused her, the role of the demon-possessed Regan in The Exorcist continues to be her most famous and celebrated moment.

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