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Author of 'The Exorcist' Says Dead Son Communicates With Him

By    |   Thursday, 07 May 2015 05:45 PM

Series of Supernatural Events Led Him to Believe in Life After Death

William P. Blatty, author of "The Exorcist," came to Washington last week on a promotional tour for his latest book. For fans of his 1971 best-selling novel about demonic possession, his visit was no disappointment.

Blatty has dipped into the supernatural again, this time with a nonfictional account of his communications with his dead son.

In his new book, "Finding Peter: A True Story of the Hand of Providence and Evidence of Life After Death," Blatty asks:

"Might you believe it if I were I to tell you that my beloved son Peter, who passed away at the age of 19, looked up at me from his crib when he was barely six weeks old and said, 'I love you,' and that over the seven years since his passing at the age of 19, he has given Julie, his mother, and me unremitting strong evidence that his death, like all human death, is a lie."

The event was held at the Catholic Information Center (CIC) in downtown Washington, and billed as an interview with Raymond Arroyo, host of the EWTN TV show "The World Over Live," and held in the CIC's chapel-auditorium.

Blatty told the crowd that his son Peter thought he was in a righteous state before he died in November of 2006. A few days before Peter's death, Peter and his mother were in church at Our Lady of Lourdes in Bethesda, Maryland. At his mother's urging, the young man walked into the confessional and the priest heard his confession, Blatty said.

On the phone with friends later, Peter said, "I'm good with God." Not long after, following a night of pizza and drinking beer, he died of heart failure, probably caused by the alcohol's effect on Peter body, already overwhelmed by heroin use.

Two months later, Blatty noticed something unusual about a favorite tree of Peter's in the family backyard in Maryland. It had grown buds in the middle of winter but lost them the next day. Later, a broken halogen light stayed on for half a minute.

Blatty does not discount the possibility that each incident was an unexplained natural event; the subtitle of his book uses the word "evidence" rather than "proof" to show that life extends beyond the grave.

This is from the book's inside flap: "As he and his wife struggled through their unrelenting grief, a series of strange and supernatural events began occurring — and Blatty became convinced that Peter was sending messages from the afterlife."

But Blatty is a believer. This book, he said in his talk, is the culmination of a writing career which he views as an apostolic act. The truth must be told: If there are demons, there must be God.

It's likely that most of the attendees in the packed hall arrived eager to learn about Blatty's encounters with the mystical, numinous, and diabolical. Or perhaps they came for an update from Blatty about his 2013 petition to the Vatican to revoke the Catholic status of his alma mater, Georgetown University, if the school does not implement Ex Corde Ecclesia, the apostolic constitution that defines the mission of Catholic colleges .

While Blatty touched on both topics, his 70-minute interview focused mostly on the emotional and career pressures he faced as he wrote "The Exorcist" in the late 1960s.

Although Blatty is associated with the genre of supernatural horror, he made his name as a comic script writer in Hollywood. His credits included the 1964 film "Shot in the Dark," the second installment of the Pink Panther series; and A-list actors like Peter Sellers, Peter Ustinov, and Shirley MacLaine starred in his films.

Blatty wrote black comedies, farces, spoofs. In both "A Shot in the Dark" and "John Goldfarb, Please Come Home!" he satirized a professional-class hero as a good-hearted but bumbling incompetent. Although he was best known as a screen writer, critics liked his novels. A New York Times reviewer compared Blatty favorably to S.J. Perelman, the great comic writer.

Blatty did not come by his success easily. He had gone through each of the writers' Stations of the Cross; among various jobs, he had been a salesman, truck driver, and public relations director.

Then his world came crashing down.

First, he lost his mother. She had raised him after his father abandoned the family when Blatty was 3 years old, and he had adored her. "Oh, how I mourned her," Blatty said.

Then he lost regular work as a Hollywood script writer. To make ends meet, he picked up checks from the unemployment office. Showing up there every week seemed like a divine punishment, and not an earned one.

Instead of giving up, Blatty changed literary genres. A 1950 graduate of Georgetown, he recalled a story he heard as a student on the Hilltop. In 1949, a Maryland boy had been acting peculiarly — he did strange things, uttered unnaturally loud growls, and wrote the word "hell" on his body. A Catholic priest was sent for and attempted an exorcism, which was unsuccessful. The family then traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, where the 12-year-old's demons were finally exorcised by Jesuit priests.

The story captivated Blatty. He moved to a wooden cabin in a remote part of Lake Tahoe in 1968 to write. He had never worked so hard. "I had nothing to do that summer, and [the novel] kept going and going. It went on so long," Blatty said. Working 18 hours a day holed up in the cabin, he produced a manuscript nine months later. The title was "The Exorcist."

For Blatty, switching from comedy to supernatural horror was one hell of a gamble: "Do I dare risk my career on demonic possession?"

Blatty spoke of his Hollywood days, including his appearance as a guest on "The Jack Paar Tonight Show." Long before Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon came along, the host could get away with telling a joke related to the guest's ethnicity. Blatty is first generation Lebanese, although his blue eyes are more typical of a European.

"The author got five minutes to talk," Blatty said. "[Paar] said, 'You're an Arab, so how did you get blue eyes?'" Blatty gave a pregnant pause for one second. "I said, the Crusades!" Gales of laughter blew through the chapel-book forum.

After "The Exorcist" was published in 1971 and its film rights were optioned, Blatty said, famous actors expressed interest in starring in a movie based on the book. Marlon Brando was said to be interested; Blatty thought his friend Shirley MacLaine would make a good heroine in a film version. Director William Friedkin had his own ideas. Fresh off his Academy Award-winning turn as the director of "The French Connection," Friedkin controlled the hiring of the actors. "Bill Friedkin didn't want stars. He said, 'I'm the star.'"

Perhaps he was right. Even without big name stars, "The Exorcist" became one of the highest grossing movies of all time. It certainly resonated with viewers, many of whom have claimed to have become believers as a result of reading his book or seeing the movie. And why not? As Blatty says, "If there are demons, there must be God."

Mark Stricherz, the Washington correspondent for Aleteia, is the author of "Why the Democrats are Blue: Secular Liberalism and the Decline of the People's Party" (Encounter Books, 2007).

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William P. Blatty, author of 1971's best-seller "The Exorcist," has dipped into the supernatural again, this time with a nonfictional account of his communications with his dead son.
The Exorcist, William Blatty, new book, dead son, communicates, with, him, supernatural, events, grief, death
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Thursday, 07 May 2015 05:45 PM
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