In Memoriam: William Peter Blatty

Earlier today William Friedkin, director of The Exorcistconfirmed that distinguished son of Georgetown William Peter Blatty died last night at a hospital in Maryland.  The cause of death was multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer.  He was 89 years old.


Mr. Blatty was born and raised in Brooklyn.  When he was six his father abandoned the family.  To make ends meet Mr. Blatty's mother Mary performed odd jobs and sold homemade quince jelly on the street.  The family changed addresses twenty-eight times before Mr. Blatty left for Georgetown, mostly due to evictions, but occasionally to stay one step ahead of creditors.  Years later he would recall attempting to join the Central Intelligence Agency when first leaving the Hilltop, but being denied the opportunity once investigators realized his frequent moves made a background investigation impossible.

Mary was a Lebanese immigrant who spoke little English and never learned to read it, but devoted her life to her youngest child, finagling a scholarship for him to an all-boys Catholic prep school.  One night during senior year a Georgetown professor came for Thanksgiving dinner to the Blatty apartment, the surprise guest of a priest who was a family friend.  After the meal was over and everyone left Mary turned excitedly to her son and said, “Willie, you gonna go to Georgetown!”  Knowing the two of them had little money to spend on the expensive tuition he asked how they would pay for it.  She smiled and exclaimed, “You gonna win a scholarship!”

A scholarship he won and Mr. Blatty arrived at Georgetown one late summer's day with a single footlocker containing the entirety of his life’s possessions.  His time on the Hilltop would be the longest he stayed at any location up to that point.  “Those years at Georgetown were probably the best years of my life,” he would tell a reporter for a 2015 profile with The Washingtonian.  “Until then, I’d never had a home.”

Mr. Blatty majored in English, wrote for The Georgetown Journal, a defunct literary magazine, acted in Mask & Bauble plays, and took part in campus hijinks.  He once borrowed the vestments of a Jesuit he knew and with friends traveled to Villanova University, where disguised as a priest he stole the school’s mascot, an untamed wildcat.

Mr. Blatty with the Villanova WIldCat He Stole while dressed as a Priest

Mr. Blatty with the Villanova WIldCat He Stole while dressed as a Priest

Before becoming famous for writing one of the world’s greatest horror novels, or "theological thriller," as he would later refer to it, Mr. Blatty, a 1950 graduate of the college, served in the Air Force, sold vacuum cleaners door-to-door, drove a beer truck, and won $10,000 as a contestant on Groucho Marx’s quiz show “You Bet Your Life” while impersonating a Saudi Arabian prince.  When asked by Marx what he intended to do with his winnings, Blatty said he would take time off to “work on a novel.” 

That book became The Exorcist.

In addition to writing The Exorcist, which he set at Georgetown and was inspired by a local news story he heard about in a theology class, (click here for the original 1949 Washington Post article), Mr. Blatty wrote fifteen other books, including several sequels, and a dozen screenplays.  He also produced and/or directed three movies and won an Academy Award plus three Golden Globes. 

His son Peter Vincent Galahad Blatty attended Georgetown, though died from a rare heart disorder in 2006 while still a student.  Mr. Blatty wrote about Peter in his final book: Finding Peter: A True Story of the Hand of Providence and Evidence of Life after Death.

More recently Mr. Blatty was known for sponsoring a Canon Law petition to the Vatican on behalf of the Father King Society asking Church authorities to bring Georgetown into compliance with Ex Corde Ecclesiae, a papal encyclical on Catholic higher education. 

Under President John DeGioia the University has been in continuous violation of Ex Corde, which lists the requirements Catholic colleges and universities must abide by in order to be considered authentically Catholic. 

Mr. Blatty argued that if Georgetown insisted on ignoring Ex Corde by doing such things as providing University funds for the pro-abortion advocacy group H*yas for Choice or maintaining official recognition of a club whose mission is to "train tomorrow's abortion providers," and which holds on-campus workshops for med school students on how to perform elective abortions, then the Church should either correct the situation or strip the University of its designation as a Catholic school.  

Archbishop Angelo Zani, Secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, responded to Mr. Blatty saying the petition constituted “a well-founded complaint" and added “[o]ur Congregation is taking the issue seriously, and is cooperating with the Society of Jesus in this regard.”

TGA published an exclusive 13,000-word excerpt of Mr. Blatty’s petition, which details a quarter century worth of examples of Georgetown’s hostility toward Catholic teaching and doubles as a history of The Georgetown Academy

Mr. Blatty also published in the most recent print edition of TGA an explanation for why he submitted his petition to the Vatican.  

A full bio of Mr. Blatty is available here.   We also link to today’s reporting from the Associated Press, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.

William Peter Blatty, 1928-2017, Requiescat in pace.

William Peter Blatty, 1928-2017, Requiescat in pace.

Our condolences to the Blatty family.