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The Author Of 'The Exorcist,' William Peter Blatty, Dies At 89


William Peter Blatty has died at the age of 89. He wrote "The Exorcist" and a number of other books, but knew he'd be remembered as the author of that 1971 novel about a little girl possessed by the devil. It brought him controversy, fame and fortune. William Peter Blatty started out writing comedic novels and wrote the screenplay for the Peter Sellers film "A Shot In The Dark."


PETER SELLERS: (As Jacques Clouseau) You idiot. You fool. It's a good job I was able to check my reflexes. I might have killed you with a karate chop.

SIMON: But he had thought about the themes of "The Exorcist" ever since he'd been a student at Georgetown University, where the story is set. We spoke to Mr. Blatty in 2011 to mark the release of the 40th anniversary edition of his novel. He said he never meant to scare anyone.


WILLIAM PETER BLATTY: I have no recollection of intending to frighten anyone at any point in time. Now to be the, you know - the terror - that's Stephen King. He is the master of terror.

SIMON: So you believe in the devil - the devil incarnate?

BLATTY: Dick Cavett asked me that. He is the reason the book is not in the trash bin of history.

SIMON: Yeah.

BLATTY: I must, therefore, tell you the story. "The Exorcist," when originally published, was a disaster. Nice reviews - lovely.

SELLERS: I didn't know that.

BLATTY: Oh, yeah. Really - I am not exaggerating. It was a disaster. Harper treated me to a farewell lunch.

SIMON: (Laughter).

BLATTY: They sent one rep, and we lunched at the Four Seasons. And, well, the phone is brought over to the table. They want to know if you can get there in 10 minutes. It was "The Dick Cavett Show." They had lost the guest at the last minute. They were ready to go. I threw down my napkin, and I tore over to the studio. So I came out on stage, and Dick Cavett said, well, Mr. Blatty, I haven't read your book. I said, well, that's OK. Shall I tell you about it? He said, oh, please. I got to do a 41-minute monologue. That was it. The airport the next week - I picked up a copy of Time magazine and looked at the bestseller list - fiction. What? What? (Laughter) This is a mistake. It was number four. Two weeks later, it was number one on the Times list, stayed at number one for over four months. It was all an accident. I still didn't plan on frightening anyone (laughter). I sleep with a nightlight. Please.


SIMON: William Peter Blatty has just brought out a new and expanded revised version of his mammoth bestseller "The Exorcist," the 40th anniversary edition. Thanks so much.

BLATTY: Oh, my. Thank you very much, Scott. My pleasure.


JASON MILLER: (As Father Damien Karras) Let's introduce ourselves. I'm Damien Karras.

MERCEDES MCCAMBRIDGE: (As Demon) And I'm the devil. Now kindly undo these straps.


SIMON: William Peter Blatty, who died this week, speaking with us in 2011. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.