When she was just 13 years old, Linda Blair genuinely frightened audiences as the demon-possessed Regan MacNeil in the terrifying movie The Exorcist. After her head-spinning performance for the award, which was surrounded by controversy, Blair faded from view.
Along with The Exorcist’s religious subject, which shocked the church, its terrifying storyline, which was underlined by spine-chilling demonic images, also scared the cast and crew members, who were dogged by injury and death despite receiving a blessing from a Jesuit priest.
The Exorcist is a 1949 exorcism that served as the basis for William Peter Blatty’s best-selling novel of the same name, which was adapted into a movie by William Friedkin.
The 1973 horror film The Exorcist centers on 12-year-old Regan MacNeil, whose extraordinarily erratic and aggressive conduct raises suspicions.
Ellen Burnstyn’s character as her mother tries for medical help, and when it doesn’t work, she turns to Jason Miller’s character as Father Damien Karras, a Jesuit priest, who affirms that Regan is being controlled by an evil spirit. Karras begs the Catholic Church to execute an exorcism in order to liberate Regan from the demons’ control.
The Exorcist was a box office success despite its contentious nature, and despite winning numerous accolades—including Oscars for Best Sound and Best Screenplay, as well as four Golden Globe Awards—the supernatural horror still holds the record for being the second-highest-grossing R-rated horror movie of all time.
It was Blair’s first significant film role, and her spooky performance made her a household name. By the age of five, Blair had already begun her career as a child model, appearing in newspaper advertisements and TV commercials for brands including Ivory Soap, Welch’s Grape Jelly, and Carefree Gum.
Blair contemplated quitting acting as a young teen in favor of a profession involving animals.
But it was impossible to resist the lure of the lead role in The Exorcist.
Friedkin chose the newbie over thousands of others for the role of Regan after spotting her at the audition as the ideal fit.
Blair was required to execute physically difficult activities that were uncomfortable and frequently dangerous, despite the fact that it was her first significant part.
People had to act out demanding parts during 1970s filming because special effects weren’t powered by technology, making them susceptible to harm and disease.
A stuntman actually threw himself down the 97 steps that are seen at the end of the movie during the exorcism scene, in which a possessed Father Karras tumbles to his death down the iconic steep steps.
Blair didn’t have to throw herself down any stairs, but the straps that held her to the bed, where she was thrashed around, dug into her back, and her bedroom was kept at a temperature of 30 below zero so the cameras could pick up the cloud of ice when an actor breathed. The bedroom was built on wheels, allowing the room to actually shake.
Blair was simply clad in a nightgown, while the rest of the team was appropriately attired.
Everyone on the set was affected by the difficulties.
The set of The Exorcist seemed cursed and had an extensive list of tragedies and deaths related to production.
In the book, “The Fear of God: 25 Years of The Exorcist,” special effects innovator Marcel Vercoutere–the man who made Blair’s head spin–said, “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.”
One of the strangest incidences involved a bird that crashed into a lightbox and started a huge fire that destroyed the entire set where Regan’s exorcism was supposed to take place. Six weeks of production were lost while the set was renovated.
Friedkin ordered technical advisor Thomas Bermingham, a Jesuit priest who helped Blatty with his book, to exorcise the set the day before the fire. He gave the entire cast and crew a blessing instead of performing a real exorcism because there wasn’t enough proof, he claimed.
Tragic events still plagued the production. Burke Dennings, played by Jack MacGowran in the movie, was Regan’s first victim, and he passed away from influenza. The actress who played Father Karras’ mother, Vasiliki Maliaros, passed away prior to the film’s debut. The fact that both of their characters in The Exorcist pass away is really frightening.
Other performers suffered familial losses, like Blair, whose grandfather passed away while filming.
Nine people who were involved in the production passed away while the movie was being made.
Blair was too young to properly comprehend the nuance and sensitivity of the idea, therefore he was unfazed by the enigmatic circumstances surrounding its production.
She explained “The Exorcist was a work of fiction. I didn’t realize then that it dealt with anything in reality.”
Although the concept was fictitious to Blair, other spectators found the theological elements to be extremely real, and as a result, Blair came under fire from those who thought the movie was to blame for their own religious crises.
She even got death threats after being accused of praising Satan by playing Regan.
Speaking to the media was also intimidating for the 14-year-old because she was often quizzed by curious reporters during press conferences about her opinions on the plot of the movie.
Blair explained “The amount of pressure that came down on me wasn’t anything I was prepared for. Especially all the pressure the press put on me. They thought I had all the answers about faith and Catholicism. … It was probably the most awful thing you could imagine.”
Blair struggled to find jobs that didn’t cast her as an innocent, helpless girl after she reprised her role as Regan in 1977’s Exorcist II: The Heretic.
She played a young girl fleeing an abusive household in the 1974 television drama Born Innocent, and she played the lead in Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic the following year.
She went nude in the October 1982 issue of Oui magazine because she was determined to change how the business saw her. This decision backfired and caused her career to slide into exploitation-type parts.
Reverting to her area of interest prior filming The Exorcist, she established the nonprofit Linda Blair Worldheart Foundation with the goal of saving and rehabbing abandoned and neglected animals.
Despite her activism and support for animals, the part she played fifty years ago continues to have a negative impact on her life.
Blair explained, “What’s very discouraging at times is the inability (of the media) to look at what I’m trying to do…I’m sad, but I’m not mad at them.”
The Exorcist is undoubtedly one of the scariest films of all time, and we all agree on that.We’d love to know your thoughts if you viewed the movie!