Jason Miller (April 22, 1939 – May 13, 2001) was an American actor and playwright. He received the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play That Championship Season, and was widely recognized for his role as Father Damien Karras in the 1973 classic horror film The Exorcist.
Miller was born John Anthony Miller in Long Island City, Queens. His family moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Miller was educated at St. Patrick’s High School and the Jesuit-run University of Scranton. He then attended The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C.
Miller was launched into stardom in 1973 by winning a Pulitzer Prize for his play, That Championship Season. The original Broadway cast featured Charles Durning, Richard Dysart, Paul Sorvino, and Michael McGuire. That same year, he was offered the role of the troubled priest, Father Damien Karras, in William Friedkin’s horror film The Exorcist (1973), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Miller played Father Damien Karras, in The Exorcist, and its real sequel The Exorcist III. Father Karras was one of the priests (with Father Merrin played by Max von Sydow) who exorcises the demon from young Regan McNeil (Linda Blair). He is a Jesuit psychiatrist suffering a crisis of faith. He searches for proof to lead an exorcism, yet during his investigation he comes to realize that there is no better way for God to prove His own existence than to reveal the foul presence of a demon. During the exorcism, the demon frequently brings up the subject of Karras’s mother’s death and how he wasn’t there to see her die, which seems to trouble Karras emotionally.
In the sequel, The Exorcist III, it is revealed that after the demon departed, another evil spirit invaded Karras’s body. Karras was found wandering and amnesiac and was placed in the care of a mental hospital near Washington, D.C. While incarcerated there, the spirit suppresses Karras’s personality and makes forays into the bodies of other patients in order to commit a series of ritual murders.
In 1982 Miller directed the screen version of That Championship Season. Featured in the cast were Robert Mitchum (replacing William Holden, who died before filming began), Paul Sorvino, Martin Sheen, Stacy Keach, and Bruce Dern. His own film career was sporadic, preferring to work in regional theatre. He starred as Henry Drummond in the Philadelphia production of Inherit the Wind. The show is to date the longest running production in Philadelphia history.
Miller co-founded the Scranton Public Theatre. With SPT, Miller directed and starred in various productions including Blithe Spirit, California Suite, Crimes of the Heart, and The Lion in Winter. He also acted occasionally in such films as The Dain Curse (1978), The Ninth Configuration (1980), Toy Soldiers (1984), and Rudy (1993), playing a role close to his heart, Notre Dame football coach Ara Parseghian.
In 1998, he toured his one-man play Barrymore’s Ghost, ending the tour with a four-month run off-Broadway. In October 2000, he performed Barrymore’s Ghost in a successful and critically acclaimed production in Philadelphia. His last project was a 2001 revival of The Odd Couple for the Pennsylvania Summer Theatre Festival, in which he was to appear in the role of Oscar Madison but died before the production opened.
Miller was the father of actors Jason Patric (by first wife Linda Gleason, daughter of Jackie Gleeson) and Joshua John Miller (by second wife Susan Bernard). In 1982 Miller returned to Scranton to become artistic director of the Scranton Public Theatre, a new regional theatre company founded the year before. On May 13, 2001, Miller died of a Heart attack in Scranton, Pennsylvania, aged 62.