How The Exorcist Transformed Linda Blair Forever

When "The Exorcist" was released in 1973, Linda Blair was just 14 years old. Though the film generated a considerable amount of controversy, the young actress blew audiences away with her haunting performance as possessed preteen Regan MacNeil. While the role earned her a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, it also became an inescapable source of frustration that ultimately hindered her career. The film's legacy as one of the scariest movies ever made pales in comparison to the real-life horrors Linda Blair endured as a result of starring in it.

Horrific Conditions on Set

Although she was barely old enough to be considered a teenager when filming "The Exorcist," Linda Blair endured a number of physical and emotional challenges on set. One particularly upsetting issue is the fact that Blair was haphazardly strapped to a mechanically rigged bed for one of the film's terrifying possession scenes, which resulted in the young actress's lower spine being fractured. Even worse, the trauma of that moment was immortalized forever when the take of her incurring the injury made it into the final cut of the film. This means that the crying and screaming we see at one point in the film is not the result of great acting, but is instead Blair's genuine cries for help that went unanswered as the cameras kept rolling.  

In addition to sustaining back injuries, Director William Friedkin insisted on shooting many of the scenes in sub-zero temperatures in order to generate genuine discomfort and capture the actors' breath on camera. This meant that Blair, who wore nothing more than a nightgown for the majority of the movie, was literally on the verge of freezing throughout her performance. 

Other shocking and unpleasant conditions on set included the fact that Friedkin would sometimes fire a gun before takes in order to elicit real scares and create an atmosphere thick with unease and anxiety throughout the filming process. He also engaged in the physical assault of those present on set, going so far as to slap a real priest across the face before a take in hopes that it would result in a genuine emotional response on screen. These conditions would be horrific for people of any age, let alone for a young teenage girl like Blair at the time.

Harassment & Backlash

While Blair was able to leave behind the hostile work environment created by Friedkin's unorthodox and disturbing directorial methods, the release of "The Exorcist" created a new set of problems for the actress. Following the premiere, reporters engaged in invasive speculation concerning Blair's mental health, leading to unfounded claims that she'd suffered a mental breakdown as a result of having to film the extremely graphic and unsettling scenes present in the film. Audiences were also shocked by her convincing portrayal of demonic possession, and influential Christian evangelist Billy Graham was among them. After his declaration that the film was tainted by the influence of the Devil himself, unhinged zealots began sending the 14-year-old Blair death threats and hate mail claiming that she was somehow "glorifying Satan" due to her participation in the movie. The backlash was so severe that it began to pose a threat to Blair's safety, causing Warner Bros. to hire a bodyguard for her as a result.

Blair also had to deal with a public that seemed to forget she was just a child, as she was frequently bombarded with questions concerning the existential and spiritual content of the film during interviews. Blair herself has said that the questions only added to the pressure she was already under and that it was an "awful thing to go through as a teenager" who didn't have an understanding of how the religious aspects of the film were grounded in reality. It's certainly easy to understand how the barrage of inconsiderate questions coupled with the backlash resulted in emotional distress for Blair.

Typecasting & Activism

Even as she struggled to find the light outside of the looming shadow of "The Exorcist," the actress would find herself typecast in victim roles despite her desire to show more range in her work. She went on to play troubled teens in various films, and even reprised her role as Regan in the 1977 sequel to "The Exorcist." Despite her efforts, she was never able to truly escape the lasting impact that starring in the horror movie had on her career. 

Thankfully, Linda Blair was able to overcome the challenges and difficulties associated with her role as Regan. Though she continued to act in a number of smaller films and television shows, she eventually shifted her focus to animal rights activism and founded the Linda Blair WorldHeart Foundation to further the cause.

Surprisingly, despite becoming one of the most iconic "scream queens" of all time thanks to "The Exorcist," Blair revealed in 2021 that she was not offered a role in the upcoming "Exorcist" reboots, using Twitter to address the issue. 

This information sparked outrage from fans who are eager to see her return to the franchise that both launched and tainted her career.