The Exorcist, the story of a 12-year-old girl possessed by the Devil, was published in 1971 and sold more than 13 million copies. The movie version, made in 1973, starring Linda Blair and directed by Blatty’s longtime friend, William Friedkin, was a massive commercial success, breaking box-office records at many theaters and becoming the highest-grossing film to date for Warner Bros. studios. It earned Mr. Blatty, who wrote the screenplay, an Academy Award. (It was also the first horror movie nominated for the best-picture Oscar.)
The Exorcist marked a radical shift in Mr. Blatty’s career, which was already well established in another genre: He was one of Hollywood’s leading comedy writers having collaborated with the director Blake Edwards on the screenplays for four films, beginning in 1964 with A Shot in the Dark, the second movie (after The Pink Panther) starring Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau and, in some critics’ view, the best. His other Edwards films were the comedy What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966); the musical comedy-drama Darling Lili (1970); and Gunn (1967), based on the television detective series Peter Gunn. He also wrote the scripts for comedies starring Danny Kaye, Warren Beatty and Zero Mostel.