Meet The Acclaimed Lebanese Author Behind The Best-Seller Novel The Exorcist

William Peter Blatty

The Exorcist is a 1971 horror novel by Lebanese-American writer William Peter Blatty.  

The book details the demonic possession of eleven-year-old Regan MacNeil, the daughter of a famous actress, and the two priests who attempt to exorcise the demon.

Published by Harper & Row, the novel was the basis of a highly successful film adaption released two years later, whose screenplay was also written and produced by Blatty, and part of The Exorcist franchise.

The novel was inspired by a 1949 case of demonic possession and exorcism that Blatty heard about while he was a student in the class of 1950 at Georgetown University.

As a result, the novel takes place in Washington, D.C., near the campus of Georgetown University. 

According to the Spanish Book Institute, the Spanish-translated version of The Exorcist novel was the eighth-most popular book sold in Spain in 1975!

The mastermind behind one of the most popular and terrifying franchises of all time, is in fact, Lebanese. 

Blatty was born on January 7, 1928, in New York City to Lebanese immigrant parents. He was the fifth and youngest child of Peter Blatty, a cloth cutter, and Mary (born Mouakad), a devout Catholic and the niece of a bishop.

Blatty’s parents separated when he was a toddler.

According to him, he was raised in “comfortable destitution” by his deeply religious mother, whose sole support came from peddling homemade quince jelly in the streets of Manhattan.

Because of the family’s inability to pay rent, they lived at 28 different addresses during his childhood.

“We never lived at the same address in New York for longer than two or three months at a time,” Blatty told The Washington Post in 1972. “Eviction was the order of the day.” Blatty’s mother died in 1967.

He attended Georgetown University on a scholarship as a young adult, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in English in 1950. While studying for his master’s degree, Blatty took menial jobs.

Initially unable to find a job in teaching, he worked as a vacuum-cleaner door-to-door salesman, a beer-truck driver, and as a ticket agent for United Airlines.

He earned his master’s in English literature from George Washington University in 1954. He then enlisted in the United States Air Force, where he ultimately became head of the Policy Branch of the USAF Psychological Warfare Division.

Mustering out of the Air Force, he joined the United States Information Agency and worked as an editor based in Beirut, Lebanon.

Eventually, his writing talent emerged, and he began submitting humorous articles to magazines.

After some stints in comedic writing throughout the early stages of his writing career, Blatty resumed writing fiction.

In 1971, he wrote the ever-so-popular The Exorcist, the story of a twelve-year-old girl possessed by a powerful demon, that topped The New York Times bestseller list for 17 weeks and remained on the list for 57 consecutive weeks.

The book sold more than 13 million copies in the United States alone and was translated into over a dozen languages. He later adapted it with director William Friedkin into the film version.

Blatty went on to win an Academy Award for his Exorcist screenplay, as well as Golden Globes for Best Picture and Best Writing. It also became the first horror film ever to be nominated for the best picture Oscar.

After the success of The Exorcist, Blatty enjoyed even more success in the genre. In 1978, he adapted his novel Twinkle, Twinkle, “Killer” Kane into a film titled The Ninth Configuration. 

In 1980, he wrote, directed, and produced a film version, which focused on the question of the existence of God. The film was a commercial flop despite critical acclaim.

At the 38th Golden Globe Awards in 1981, he was nominated for three Golden Globes and won the Best Writing Award. 

In 1983, he wrote Legion (later called The Exorcist II: The Heretic), a sequel to The Exorcist, which later became the basis of the film The Exorcist III

Blatty’s son Peter Vincent Blatty died from a rare heart disorder in 2006 at the age of 19.

His death was the subject of Blatty’s non-fiction book which is “part comic memoir, part argument for life after death.” He titled the book Finding Peter: A True Story of the Hand of Providence and Evidence of Life After Death (2015).

Blatty married four times and had seven children. He died in 2017 at the age of 89 of multiple myeloma. His legacy will live on for years to come, with “exorcism” movies becoming some of the most popular in the genre.

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