Life After the Exorcist: Linda Blair Was Never the Same

Linda Blair became the scariest kid in the world in 1973 when The Exorcist came out in theaters. The controversial but hugely successful film propelled Blair to massive fame when she was only 14 years old. Such fame takes its toll on a child, especially one who became famous from a movie that was notoriously hard to make.

Linda Blair / Linda Blair / Rick James, Linda Blair / Linda Blair.
Source: Getty Images

The conditions on the set left her picking up the pieces, in chronic pain, while receiving death threats, and being typecast in what could have been a promising career. No wonder she went through a rebellious phase, filled with drugs, arrests, and Rick James.

She Started Out as a JCPenney Girl

It’s been five decades, and The Exorcist is still the movie Linda Blair is known for. But playing a little possessed child was by far not the end of the actress’ story. Sure, she never reached the same heights of fame again, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t famous in her own right.

A picture of Linda Blair at age 15.
Photo by Eric Harlow/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

Blair’s life may have gone off-path in her younger years, but she managed to make it out (nearly) unscathed. Linda Denise Blair was born on January 22, 1959, in St. Louis, and her career began at the age of five, when she started modeling for Sears, JCPenney and Macy’s.

The One, Out of 600

Blair was also in TV commercials for Ivory Soap, Welch’s Grape Jelly, and Carefree Gum. By nine, she was acting in soap operas and landing some minor film roles. At 13, she was offered the role that would change her life forever.

A photo of Linda Blair on the set of The Exorcist.
Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis-Getty Images

Blair was one of 600 children who auditioned for the role of Regan in The Exorcist. Other names on the list were Jamie Lee Curtis and Denise Nickerson (she played Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). The thing is, Blair wasn’t so gung-ho about the part in the horror film.

She Wanted Out

Having been in the industry for nearly a decade by then, she was growing disillusioned with life in front of the camera. She was more interested in animals, especially horses. “Modelling was pretty difficult back then,” she explained.

A portrait of Linda at the airport.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

“I did not find the business something that I had an interest in. I wanted to be a veterinarian.” She was even willing to give up acting for horseback riding. “When I was 13, I basically asked my mother if it was possible for this to end, that I’d had enough of it. And I truly had had enough.”

She Was the Perfect Fit

Then the Exorcist happened. The 13-year-old Linda heard about the film adaptation of The Exorcist, and said “why not?” Maybe this would be the last one, she thought. Blair’s mom, Elinore, took her to meet William Friedkin, the director, and audition.

A promotional still of Linda in The Exorcist II: The Heretic.
Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis/Getty Images

Friedkin later revealed that after seeing thousands of applicants, all trying out for the same part, he almost gave up on finding the perfect actress for the role of Regan. Then he met Blair, and after her audition, he was convinced she was a perfect fit.

Nightmares, Burns, and Chronic Pain

Friedkin was, fittingly, a filmmaker possessed. After his most recent film, the French Connection, he developed a reputation of pushing his cast and crew past their limits. Young Linda Blair was forced to wear makeup so scathing that it burned her skin.

A movie scene from The Exorcist.
Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives/Getty Images

She was also strapped into a harness which resulted in lifelong spinal injuries. The truth is, the nightmare-inducing movie created very real nightmares for Blair for years to come. To make it worse, the movie – in more ways than one – derailed a promising career in film.

She Was Left Out of the Reboot

She was typecast as the eternal victim. You would think that The Exorcist franchise might owe one to Blair. Nope. The latest Exorcist reboot didn’t even entertain the idea of having Blair in the film. The 60-something Blair made her thoughts known on social media.

A portrait of Linda at the time.
Photo by Aaron Davidson/WireImage/Getty Images

She tweeted that “there has not been any discussions about me participating or reprising my role.” Back in 1972, Friedkin made it clear from the get-go that he wasn’t taking any prisoners. Before bringing Blair on, he insisted that she and her mother read William Blatty’s novel (from which the movie was adapted).

“Stinky, Smelly, Thick, Gooey”

The director didn’t seem to care that Blair was so young. One of his first decisions was to use Blair’s stunt double, Eileen Dietz, as little as possible. He only hired her because the studio forced him to. “Friedkin came to me before we were filming and said, ‘if you do not do all of this film, the film will be a joke,’” Blair recalled.

A portrait of Linda as Regan Teresa MacNeil in The Exorcist.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Warner Bros.

The pressure was on. In the end, Dietz was on screen for about 17 seconds, Blair explained. “And they are two of the vomit scenes. I had really had enough of the vomit… I was warm, stinky, smelly, thick, gooey.”

The Harness Gave Her Scoliosis

The vomit was one thing Blair said nearly pushed her over the edge. Then there was the harness she had to be strapped to during the bed scene, which would repeatedly bang her spine. At one point, when the bed was “levitating,” a technical failure fractured her back.

A still from the bed scene.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Warner Bros.

The on-set injury developed into a serious diagnosis of scoliosis, leaving her in chronic pain. “The back injury was far more serious than I ever imagined and really affected my health negatively for a long time,” she said, adding that she had “a lot of difficulty living with the aftermath of The Exorcist.”

Blasphemy!

The true horror came after the shooting wrapped. You might remember – or have heard – that the movie had a visceral effect on moviegoers. Some even passed out from sheer shock. There were offended Christians, ones who called blasphemy, who took their anger out on Blair, rather than the screenwriter or director.

A picture of Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair on set.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Warner Bros.

The movie was released in New York City, and Blair was sitting in the audience. When the movie ended, Blair had a gut feeling that her life was going to change. She just didn’t know it would take such a turn for the worst.

The Life-Threatening Aftermath

Religious zealots were sending Blair death threats. People would follow her on the street and scream obscenities at her. The actress, barely a teenager, was suddenly thrust into a media frenzy and confronted with questions about the subtext of a movie she wasn’t even legally old enough to watch.

A portrait of Linda Blair smiling on the filming set.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Warner Bros.

“They thought I had all the answers about faith and Catholicism… They’d put me on planes for these ridiculously long trans-Atlantic flights… and then I’d be thrust in front of hundreds of people I often couldn’t understand who were putting their faith into my hands. It was horrible.”

The Troubled Teen

The silver lining came in the form of awards; she won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar for her role in The Exorcist. But she couldn’t escape the devil’s shadow. The typecasting began. Still a teen, she was cast in an exploitative movie called Born Innocent (famous for its lesbian rape scene).

A still of Linda in a scene from Born Innocent.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Sony Pictures Television

Establishing herself as the most troubled child in film history, Blair was consistently cast as a troubled teen, an addict and a victim of abuse. Then came 1977’s Exorcist II: The Heretic. She was 18 when The Exorcist II came out.

Born Innocent to Playboy

There was also Sarah T: Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic. Blair was not happy with the movies she was being offered. Come 1982, in a desperate attempt to reinvent herself, she posed for Playboy. Many women don’t come back from Playboy.

A headshot of Linda posing for Playboy.
Source: Pinterest

Blair’s brief, topless detour backfired on her. She was condemned to a decade of campy horror flicks, and even acted in the parody of The Exorcist, Repossessed, opposite Leslie Nielsen in 1990. Her last, somewhat famous role was an un-credited cameo in Scream.

18 and Arrested for Drugs

After The Exorcist II, Blair took a brief hiatus from the industry to get back to horseback riding. When she returned to the world of acting, the movie roles were far and few between. It didn’t help that she was acting like a teen delinquent. In 1977, approaching her 19th birthday, she was arrested.

A portrait of Linda at the time.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

She was charged with possession of class-A drugs and conspiracy to sell drugs. She pled guilty to a lesser charge of conspiracy to possess cocaine, leaving her with three years of probation plus community service.

If the Arrest Wasn’t Embarrassing Enough…

The judge ordered her to make at least 12 major public appearances in which she would tell young people about the dangers of drug abuse. If the arrest wasn’t embarrassing enough, the whole world had to find out about it, too.

A promotional still for Roller Boogie.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: United Artists

From 1979 onwards, Blair was seen in low-budget and drive-in type movies, like Roller Boogie, Hell Night, and Chained Heat. This new chapter in her career, along with her Playboy photoshoots, won her a new audience of “thrill-seeking” male fans.

She “Won” the “Loser” Awards

The early ‘80s saw introduced her to five Golden Raspberry Award nominations, “winning” two of them. In 1985, she earned a Worst Actress Award for all three of her films released that year. Eventually, Blair made it out of the weeds and started her later career in animal rights activism.

Linda Blair and a guest attend an event.
Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images

But the in-between years were filled with trashy movies and musicians. There was a period when Blair dove into the arms of men in the music industry, becoming a muse for none other than Rick James, among others.

Her Rockstar Streak Started at 15

Blair was 15 when she started dating Australian singer Rick Springfield, who was 25 years old at the time. Yes, it’s very creepy. The two met at a concert at LA’s Whisky a Go Go. Blair also dated Deep Purple bassist Glenn Hughes and Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw.

A dated photo of Linda and a Robin Zander of Cheap Trick during a concert tour.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Then there was her relationship with Jim Dandy Mangrum of Black Oak Arkansas and later on she dated actor Wings Hauser. But Blair’s most talked-about relationship has to be the one with funk rocker Rick James. According to the late musician, Linda Blair broke his heart.

Oui, Oui

Years after Blair and Springfield split, she had her eyes on Rick James. In a 1982 interview with Oui magazine, printed with a topless picture of her, Blair revealed that she found James “very sexy.” James was then shown the page from the magazine by someone in his entourage.

Rick James performs on stage.
Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

The rock star decided to return the compliment through a third party. They first chatted on the phone and then met up in New York. Soon enough, the two were an item and it lasted for about two years. It left him with a broken heart.

Topless Free Spirits

James, who died in 2004, wrote about many women in his memoir, Glow: The Autobiography of Rick James. Among the women listed − Elisabeth Shue, Ola Ray, Janis Hunter, and Teena Marie − was Blair. “Linda was incredible. A free spirit. A beautiful mind. A mind-blowing body,” he wrote.

A photo of Rick James embracing Linda Blair.
Source: Pinterest

Thanks to James’ candid memoir, we know that he and Blair “dabbled” in drugs together (no kidding – he was a known addict). “We posed topless for a photograph that showed up everywhere. We didn’t care,” he shared.

Cold Blooded Was About Her

He continued, “We were doing our own thing in our own way. It was a love affair that I hoped would last. It didn’t.” James ended up writing his hit single Cold Blooded about Blair. He dropped a bomb when he revealed that he discovered he had impregnated Blair and that she had an abortion without telling him.

A portrait of Rick James and Linda at home.
Source: Reddit

He said the song was purely about his “steamy affair with Linda Blair.” In 1983, Cold Blooded hit number 1 on Billboard’s R&B charts. “When I called my album Cold Blooded, I wasn’t talking about my personality.”

Apparently, She Could Freeze His Blood

“I didn’t see myself that way. I was warm-blooded. I was a guy who needed other people. I also needed other people to need me,” James wrote. He continued to explain: “It was about how Linda could freeze my blood.”

A photo of James looking at Blair.
Source: Pinterest

He mentioned the secret abortion, and how she later told him that it was his child, but she “gave me no voice in her decision. I call that cold-blooded,” James said. The book, by the way, came out the year after James passed away.

She Couldn’t Handle His Lifestyle

In 1998, Blair appeared in James’ Behind the Music documentary for VH1. Blair actually felt as though Cold Blooded was a compliment to her. “That was very nice that he wrote that about me. I don’t see it, but OK.”

A photo of Linda Blair attending an event.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

During the VH1 special, James mentioned that he had wished he could have marry Blair at one point. His lifestyle (aka the drugs), however, was just too much for her. “I could not bear to be around that,” Blair shared.

She Broke His Heart

“It wasn’t healthy for me, and it wasn’t healthy for him, by any means. And so, I chose after a while to walk away,” said Blair. James explained just how much she broke his heart. “She was in the middle of shooting a movie and was starting to show, and she didn’t think I would care anyway.”

A dated portrait of Linda Blair.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

He added, “She was wrong. I did care deeply… I still look back on her choice with sadness and wonder about our baby, and how having that child might have changed my life.”

When Linda Met the First Rick

Let’s dive a little deeper into her young romance with Rick Springfield. They started dating after The Exorcist already came out. She later revealed that Springfield was her “first.” It was 1974 and Blair went to see a show at the Whiskey A Go Go.

A portrait of Rick Springfield.
Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

At the time, Springfield thought Blair was the “hottest young actress in movies.” He wrote about it in his memoir, Late, Late at Night. “She invited me to the Rainbow Club up the street after I’m done with my last set, and she says she and her sister Debbie will buy me a drink.”

He Taught Her, Um, Everything

He claimed that he didn’t know how old she was, but he soon learned that she was only 15. Again, he was 25 at the time. That night, after drinks at the club, Blair went back with him to his apartment, “most specifically, my bed,” he wrote.

A dated photo of Rick and Linda on a night out.
Source: YouTube

“I am her first lover, and she is an enthusiastic learner. We share a love of dogs and sex — separately, not in combination,” he wrote of their relationship. “Most of the time we don’t leave the apartment.” He was broke at the time, but Blair didn’t care.

Blindly and Innocently or Really Quiet?

Springfield and Blair apparently weren’t on the same page when it came to how they saw their relationship. In his memoir, he said they were going out in public as a couple, “blindly and innocently to the media slaughter.”

A photo of Springfield and Blair leaving a bar.
Source: Pinterest

According to Springfield, the media “shocked” them both when “incensed articles in both teen and regular press about their affair” were published. Blair, on the other hand, insisted that she and Springfield were “really quiet” about it. “We did try to keep it all very sacred and I think we did a good job because it’s something that really didn’t even hit the headlines.”

The Whole Age Difference Thing

Blair explained that the only reason they didn’t stay together was that they were “in the industry,” saying “it’s very difficult under the limelight. There’s a lot of scrutiny.” Of course, there was the whole age difference thing that always throws people off.

A photo of Linda Blair during an interview.
Photo by Bobby Bank/Getty Images

Springfield recalled being “pilloried for the whole age-difference thing.” Regardless of it all, and considering how long ago this was, the two have nothing but “positive and good memories”, at least according to Blair. They’re still friends to this day…

Reuniting for the Animals

In fact, their friendship continued over the years thanks to their love of animals. Both are advocates for animal welfare organizations, including Blair’s World Heart Foundation. Her foundation seeks to “alleviate suffering while rescuing, rehabilitating, and rehoming abused, neglected, and abandoned animals.”

Blair and Springfield meet during an event.
Source: Pinterest

In 2020, Springfield and Blair reunited for the foundation’s merchandise. Every purchase’s proceeds go directly into rescuing, feeding, sheltering, and vet care for the deserving animals.

Blair’s Fling With Deep Purple’s Glenn Hughes

Deep Purple’s bassist, from 1973 to 1976, was Glenn Hughes and in an interview with Classic Rock magazine, he shed some light on his long-ago affair with Blair. It was back in the ‘70s when she was filming the second Exorcist film.

A dated image of Linda Blair and Glenn Hughes attending an event.
Source: Pinterest

They had met through Hughes’ ex-bandmate, guitarist Tommy Bolin, who had had his own fling with the actress. “Just before a Trapeze gig in St. Louis, I got a call from Tommy, and he put me on the phone to Linda. She told me she was a big Purple fan,” he recalled.

Nope, Just a Horse Lover

At the time, Blair was about to fly to New York to shoot Exorcist II: The Heretic, but she wanted to make a detour and stopover in St. Louis and see Trapeze. “So, she turned up at my front door the next morning carrying an overnight bag – and a saddle,” Hughes recalled.

A photo of Linda Blair in a rodeo.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

It’s not every day that you show up to our crush’s house with a saddle. He said he thought to himself, “Is this some bizarre sexual fetish? No, it turned out that she was a keen horsewoman!” The two became fast lovers, but her addiction got to be too much for him.

He Said She Did Way Too Much Blow

“I was going completely off the rails, and I’d found the perfect mate to stumble along with,” Hughes exposed. He then said it’s “incredible” but he “broke up with her because she was doing so much blow.” Hughes claims that it was getting “too intense” for him.

A photo of Linda Blair arriving at a restaurant.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

“We’d be driving down Sunset Boulevard, she’d have an ounce of cocaine in a bag on her lap, and she’d be doing bumps through a straw.” He was worried the cops would catch them. “A few weeks after we broke up, she got busted… If I’d been busted with her, my life and career in America would’ve been over.”

A Nightgown in Sub-Zero

The Exorcist was a huge success, and to this day, it sits as the second highest-earning R-rated horror film of all time. We know now that the conditions on the set were gruesome, particularly for Blair. In addition to what we already mentioned, there were the extremely cold temperatures on set.

A still from The Exorcist.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Warner Bros.

During the actual exorcism scenes, Blair had to wear only a nightgown. But the temperature on the set would often drop below zero. According to Blair, it was because of the air conditioning units they used to achieve the visibly cold breath.

Hours of Burning Makeup

While the crew was wearing protective gear against the cold, Blair was simply freezing. Then, there was the daunting, daily makeup procedure. Each day, she sat for two hours in the makeup chair, but sometimes it would reach up to five hours.

A photo of Blair and Friedkin behind the scenes.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Warner Bros.

Blair explained that the glue that held the prosthetics together burned her face. Blair probably faced the brunt of the production’s dangerous procedures, but there were other things that happened that led people to say the set was cursed: like the multiple deaths, for example.

They Even Tried to Exorcise the Set

The Exorcist saw a long list of tragedies and deaths related to the production. After several disasters on the set, a priest was actually called upon to exorcise the set! Even weirder was the electrical fire that burned the set down.

A still of Linda in a scene from the film.
Source: YouTube

Strangely, the fire was started when a pigeon flew into the light box, during the infamous exorcism scene. Due to the freak fire, the film was put on hold for six weeks as the set had to be rebuilt. According to Friedkin, it made him question whether the film was seriously cursed.

Then People Started Dropping Like Flies

The fire was one thing. Then people started dying. Jack MacGowran, who played Burke Dennings, died suddenly after getting sick with the flu. Vasiliki Maliaros, the actress who played Father Karras’ mother, also died before the film came out.

Jack MacGowran in a scene from The Exorcist.
Source: YouTube

The creepiest thing about both of their deaths is that both of their characters die in The Exorcist. If those deaths weren’t bad enough, there was the death in Blair’s own family, of her grandfather, which also happened during filming. A total of nine people related to the production reportedly died during the making of the film.

Her Religion Helped Her

For Blair, the story of The Exorcist was fictional. Because she wasn’t raised Catholic, Blair said she was able to be a part of the film and not be fearful of the subject. “The Exorcist was a work of fiction. I didn’t realize then that it dealt with anything in reality.”

Linda Blair poses for a photo behind the scenes.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Warner Bros.

For many viewers, though, the ideas of possession and the Devil were horrifying concepts rooted in reality. During the post-film press, Blair found herself in an uncomfortable spot. “The amount of pressure that came down on me wasn’t anything I was prepared for,” she shared.

The Police Lived at Her House

She recalled how “They thought I had all the answers about faith and Catholicism. It was probably the most awful thing you could imagine.” What made all those interviews worse was that they were often held with hundreds of people in the press room, rather than being conducted one-on-one.

Linda Blair talks to the media.
Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

As for all the death threats she received after the film was released, Blair said she was shocked but thankfully well-protected. “The police were hired to live at my house,” she recalled. When she was walking down the street, though, and people would heckle her, she was on her own.

Is Linda Blair a Lesbian?

It seems as though the only reason this question has been raised is because Blair has never been married and or had kids. Although she has had her share of relationships – all with men – she never settled down and started a family.

Linda Blair attends an event.
Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images

Does that mean she’s gay? Obviously not. Nevertheless, it’s a question that fans have asked over the years. At age 63, it looks like children are out of the question. But who knows – maybe she’s enjoying an under-the-radar relationship.

Linda Blair’s Net Worth

Blair started hеr оwn сlоthіng lіnе: Lіndа Вlаіr’ѕ Wіld Wеѕt Соllесtіоn. Aside from being an actress she’s also a businesswoman and philanthropist. As of 2021, she has аn еѕtіmаtеd nеt wоrth оf $20 mіllіоn.

An outdoors picture of Linda Blair.
Photo by Vincent Sandoval/WireImage/Getty Images

She also hosted the TV series Scariest Places on Earth for six years in the 2000s, which adds to her worth. She spends her free time as an animal rights advocate; she supports PETA, the Children’s Charity and Feed the Children, as well as her own organization.

Margot Kidder Went From Superman to Living in a Box

The Other, Darker Side of Richard Dreyfuss

Raquel Welch Is in Her 80s and Still Turning Heads

The Most Happening Couples Over the Decades, Since 1945

Sprained Ankles and Burns: Dangerous Toys From the ’80s

Barbara Hershey Was Ridiculed for Being a Hippie