How did Owen Roizman die? 'The Exorcist' cinematographer hailed for 'masterful imagery' after death at 86

How did Owen Roizman die? 'The Exorcist' cinematographer hailed for 'masterful imagery' after death at 86
Owen Roizman received an honorary Oscar in 2018 (Kevin Winter/Getty Images, Rotten Tomatoes)

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK: Owen Roizman, the legendary Oscar-winning cinematographer who filmed '70s classics 'The French Connection' and 'The Exorcist', has died at the age of 86. The news of his demise was first released by American Cinematographer on their Instagram profile on January 6. The post read, “We are very sorry to hear that cinematographer Owen Roizman, ASC has died at the age of 86 following a long illness…We are preparing a full memorial.” 

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Roizman was born in Brooklyn on September 22, 1936, and grew up dreaming of playing professional baseball, even attending a trial for the New York Yankees. His father Sol worked as a cameraman for Movietone, and when Roizman realized how much money he might make as a cinematographer rather as a mathematician or physicist - fields in which he excelled in school - he decided to "go for the money," as he told Variety in a 2017 interview. 

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He began his career as an assistant to cinematographer Gerald Hirschfield before making his feature debut as a cinematographer in the 1970s with ‘Stop!’ His second movie, William Friedkin's 1971 masterpiece ‘The French Connection', won him his first Oscar nomination. He filmed movies like ‘The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight', Woody Allen's ‘Play It Again, Sam', 'Liza With a Z', and ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ before rejoining Friedkin for his 1973 blockbuster ‘The Exorcist’, which earned him his second Academy Award nomination. 

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Roizman also worked on other 1970s hits like ‘The Taking of Pelham One Two Three', ‘Three Days of the Condor', and Sidney Lumet's ‘Network', for which he received his third Academy Award nomination. He also had Oscar nominations for 1983's ‘Tootsie’ and 1995's ‘Wyatt Earp’ before receiving an Honorary Award from the Academy in 2018. Roizman is survived by his 58-year-old wife, Mona Lindholm, and their son Eric, who worked as a camera operator on television episodes such as 'Lethal Weapon', 'The Last Man on Earth', and 'Justified.'

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'A master of NYC on-location shooting'

Cinephiles fondly remembered the legendary cinematographer's work in the comment section of the American Cinematographer’s Instagram post. “One of the great ones. RIP Owen. Thank you for the masterful imagery and for the kind words,” one said. “Total legend, what could 70s cinema be without him and Gordon Willis??? Masters of NYC on-location shooting as well,” another added.

Cinematographer/Presenter Owen Roizman attends the 31st Annual Student Academy Awards at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences June 13, 2004 in Beverly Hills, California.
Cinematographer/Presenter Owen Roizman attends the 31st Annual Student Academy Awards at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences June 13, 2004, in Beverly Hills, California (Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images)

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Someone noted, “A true master. Thank you for sharing your talents with the world, sir.” “A consummate craftsman. Did some career-best work all the way up to his final features,” another added. Someone else wrote, “What a legend. He is one of the true voices of 1970s cinematography to me and I owe him greatly,” “A legend, a forever inspiration,” another remarked. 

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