In 1973, Warner Bros. and Hoya Productions introduced the world to what is still referred to by many today as one of the scariest horror films to ever hit the silver screen. Granted, many of the films’ special effects are laughable in the modern age of technology, but for the time, The Exorcist was a truly terrifying motion picture.
Today, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, based on William Peter Blatty’s novel of the same name, has become a household name, sparking five succeeding prequels and/or sequels spanning from 1977 to 2005. But what happened to the original cast?
From Linda Blair’s Regan to Mercedes McCambridge’s voice of the demon, the film’s actors have had variable outcomes post-Exorcist.
Here is where the cast of The Exorcist is now.
Sharon Spencer, a sort of tutor for Regan (Linda Blair) and close friend and assistant to her mother, Chris (Ellen Burstyn), is a fairly soft-spoken woman, and though a minor character, the audience can see the toll Regan’s possession takes on the woman, as she’s developed close, emotional ties with the MacNeil family.
The part is played by Kitty Winn, at the time a 29-year-old actress who continued with the franchise by playing the same character in the sequel, Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), which was absolutely dismantled by most critics. Now 71-years-old, Winn is long retired, her last film, Mirrors, released in 1978.
An experienced, elderly priest and archeologist, Father Merrin has experienced evil before, and understands it better than anyone. He’s performed exorcists before, which is why it comes as no surprise when he’s recruited to perform yet another on a young girl.
Max von Sydow is now an 86-year-old man, though his acting career is very much alive. Not only has he since appeared in such films as Footloose (1979), Shutter Island (2010) and a little film known as Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), but he’s also going to be the newest cast member in season 6 of Game of Thrones as the Three-Eyed Raven.
A man whose faith has been shaken, Father Karras is still mourning the loss of his mother, a traumatic event that has visibly altered Karras’ beliefs. However, when he agrees to see Regan and sees the reality of the possession, he takes the case, battling both the evil inside the young girl as well as his own skeletons.
Jason Miller was 34-years-old at the time The Exorcist was released, and the playwright/actor went on to act in several films including Toy Soldiers (1984) and Rudy (1993) following the success of The Exorcist. His last film, Finding Home, was released in 2003. On May 13, 2001, Miller died of a heart attack at his home in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He was 62-years-old.
Though the part consisted only of voiceover work (once it was determined that simply altering the voice of Linda Blair wasn’t nearly as frightening as it needed to be), Mercedes McCambridge’s role in The Exorcist has led her to cult status, as the voice is often credited by fans as one of the many reasons the film was so creepy. Following the film, McCambride ended up taking Warner Bros. to court because she was uncredited for her role as the voice of the demon.
In the early '80s, she retired from film, her last being Echoes in 1982. However, there is a chance one of the lost films of Orson Welles, The Other Side of the Wind (shot between 1970 and 1976) will finally come to fruition this year, bringing McCambridge back to the big screen. Unfortunately, she won’t be able to see the finished product, as McCambridge passed away on March 2, 2004 of natural causes.
The deceased mother of Father Karras appears several times in the film, and plays an integral part of his story, as she is supposedly the reason he has lost his faith by the time Chris MacNeil finds him. She appears several times in the memory of Father Karras as well as in the demon’s mocking.
The actress that plays her, Vasiliki Maliaros, was a Greek woman spotted by Friedkin in a Greek restaurant in NYC. Prior to this role, she had no acting experience whatsoever, and this film was her only role. Before the film was released, on February 9, 1973, Maliaros died at 89-years-old of natural causes.
Burke Dennings is the eccentric film director working with actress Chris MacNeil on their current project at the opening of The Exorcist. Dennings appears to be very flirty with Chris throughout the film, something touched upon in a conversation between Regan and Chris. When he’s thrown from a window while Regan’s possessed, police enter the picture to investigate a potential homicide.
Jack MacGowran has 75 credits as an actor, his latest film being The Exorcist. However, MacGowran would never see it hit theaters. On January 30, 1973, MacGowran died of complications from influenza, which he’d contracted while in London during a flu epidemic.
Dr. Klein, a very small role in the film, actually puts the argument of the plot into words: is this a possession, or a psychological phenomenon? Because possessions are religiously based, they aren’t widely accepted as a reality, something the film takes into consideration. The film takes a stance on this imbalance, pitting science and the supernatural against one another in the form of doctors and priests.
Dr. Klein is played by Barton Heyman, who was a character actor for about thirty years. He worked in many roles from TV shows to film to stage acting, his last roles in Dead Man Walking (1995) starring Sean Penn and Rescuing Desire (1996). On May 15, 1996, Heyman passed away due to heart failure at 59-years-old.
Lt. Kinderman is another character in The Exorcist that’s more grounded in reality than he is in the supernatural. He’s a cunning, assertive cop that believes there are ties from the MacNeil family to the desecration at the church as well as to the death of beloved director, Burke Dennings. He believes Dennings’ death is a homicide. His suspect: young Regan.
Lee J. Cobb was a character actor following WWII. He acted in such stage productions as 1949’s Death of a Salesman and King Lear in 1968. He also acted in films such as Exodus (1960) and Clint Eastwood’s Coogan’s Bluff (1968). Unfortunately, on February 11, 1976, Cobb died of a heart attack. He was 64-years-old.
Chris MacNeil is an actress that has moved herself and her daughter to Washington D.C. for her latest role. She is a short-tempered, driven woman that would do anything to help her daughter. So when things begin to go wrong for young Regan, Chris consults everyone in her power to help make things right.
Ellen Burstyn has had a successful film career, moving from her humble television beginnings to the Oscar winning actress she is today. Her performance in The Exorcist earned her an Oscar nomination for best actress as well, though she ultimately won the award for her performance in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974). Recently, Burstyn appeared in the TV movie Flowers in the Attic (2014) as well as two huge films known as Interstellar (2014) and The Age of Adaline (2015). Burstyn is still acting today at 83-years-old.
Regan is the centerfold of the film, an innocent and sweet 12-year-old girl who becomes increasingly aggressive, demonstrating truly uncharacteristic qualities that send her friends and family for a loop. Eventually, the clergy is sought after, as the only reasonable explanation for this sudden change is possession.
The star of the film herself, Linda Blair became an iconic actor as a child, skyrocketing to fame following her role as Regan. While no role would ever outshine the child possessed by a demon, Blair continues to act today. However, her main focus now is on her love for animals. She has an organization known as the Linda Blair WorldHeart Foundation, which works to rehabilitate abused, neglected and abandoned animals.
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