The news was confirmed on Monday (7 August) by Chapman University Dean Stephen Galloway, a friend of Friedkin’s wife Sherry Lansing, according to Variety.
He died of heart failure and pneumonia in his Los Angeles home, the New York Times reported.
Friedkin was born in Chicago, Illinois, on 29 August 1935. He began his film career in the Sixties with the comedy musical Good Times (1967), starring Sonny and Cher.
Several movies later, he won a directing Oscar for his 1971 classic, The French Connection.
Gene Hackman and the late Roy Scheider led the acclaimed detective drama as a pair of investigators who have to chase down a French heroin smuggler.
It was during the Seventies that he and fellow filmmakers, including Francis Ford Coppola and Hal Ashby, rose to fame in Hollywood for their risk-taking direction.
In 1973, Friedkin released The Exorcist, which earned $500m worldwide at the box office, an astounding feat that, along with Coppola’s The Godfather, helped spark the blockbuster era in motion pictures.
The Exorcist is based on William Peter Blatty’s best-selling novel of the same name, and stars Linda Blair as a young girl whose mother seeks medical help after her daughter starts displaying oddities, such as levitating and speaking in tongues.
The horror thriller landed him his second directing Oscar nomination. The movie went on to spawn five sequels, each directed by someone new. Friedkin had partnered with Blatty on the third 1990 movie, but he eventually exited the project over creative differences.
He later married studio head Lansing in 1991, after which he started consistently directing movies. Although, he eventually spent most of his time working in TV, directing series like Tales From the Crypt, The Twilight Zone, Space Quest and CAT Squad.
Friedkin’s latest documentary horror was 2017’s The Devil and the Father. However, according to IMDb, before his death, he had completed production on the forthcoming legal drama The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, which is expected to release in 2023.
In a 2012 interview with The Independent, Friedkin humbly said: “I don’t see myself as a pioneer. I see myself as a working guy and that’s all, and that is enough.”
He is survived by his fourth wife Lansing, and his two sons, one of whom he shared with his second wife, British actor Lesley-Anne Down, and the other with his former fiancée, Australian dancer Jennifer Nairn-Smith.
Friedkin was previously married to newscaster Kelly Lange from 1987 to 1990 and the late French actor Jeanne Moreau from 1977 to 1979.