"My friend Bill Friedkin was an original; smart, cultured, fearless and wildly talented," Burstyn said in a statement. "On the set, he knew what he wanted, would go to any length to get it and was able to let it go if he saw something better happening. He was undoubtedly a genius."
1973's The Exorcist cast Burstyn as Chris MacNeil and Blair as her 12-year-old daughter Regan, who is possessed by the devil. Willing to do anything to save her daughter, Chris enlists priests Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) and Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow) to get rid of the demon. To this day, the film remains one of the highest grossing horror movies ever made.
The Exorcist became the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture. Burstyn was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and Blair received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, in addition to nominations for Best Director for Friedkin, Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Miller, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, and Best Sound. The film went on to win two Oscars (Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound).
"How do you put into words appreciation to the person that changed your life forever, along with the world?" Blair wrote on Instagram. "Billy [Friedkin] was a game changer, thought outside the box, was a genius with an incredibly bold personality and extraordinary imagery that electrified colleagues and moviegoers alike and remained a true maverick throughout his career in the film industry."
Blair's tribute continues:
"Every actor wanted to work with him and maybe my story is the most poignant. Taking a real 13-year-old and confirming my stability to endure the journey he was about to take me and the world on. His directing came with demanding guidance, commitment and strict work ethic. His creative licensing with my performance, always thought provoking and precise with his 'on point' direction for my performance as Regan. Pushing envelopes with ground breaking special effects to ensure my performance was nothing less than shocking and unforgettable.
He fiercely protected me from the maddening crowds that reared their ugly heads back in the day of the movie’s release.
He understood my need to remain grounded in nature, my love for animals, and giving me my first prize horse which I named 'Best Director' in his honor. He supported my continued love for animals and my foundation Linda Blair Worldheart, to change the world for the animals.
He was my director, friend, and protector. It was an honor to know him and I am deeply saddened at this time. He changed my life forever, along with the world through my performance, and all my performances throughout my career.
RIP my dear friend…love, respect and deepest condolences to Sherry, Cedric and Jack."
Blair reprised her role as Regan MacNeil in 1977's Exorcist II: The Heretic, albeit without Friedkin at the helm. Burstyn will reprise her role for the first time in The Exorcist: Believer, which arrives in theaters this October. Jason Blum, the producer behind Believer, said in a statement, "I am personally indebted to William Friedkin and saddened by his loss. More than any other filmmaker, he changed both the way directors approached horror films and also the perception of horror films in the broader culture. We are deeply saddened to hear of his passing and intensely grateful for the body of work he has left behind."