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Bedeviled no longer
'Exorcist's' Linda Blair revisits an old role
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Just for the record, Linda Blair is not mentally ill, any more than she is creepy, sinister or outright evil.
And, lest anyone have any lingering doubts: Unlike Regan, the possessed innocent preteen girl she played in the 1973 classic "The Exorcist," Blair definitely cannot make her head frenetically whirl around.
In fact, the petite Blair, now a jaunty 41, has come a long way from the haunted role that earned her a place in film history. Today, with her highlighted hair and snug purple top, she looks more like a well-off suburban housewife than a woman who once channeled Satan on the big screen.
"I survived," she laughs. "I'm fine. I was meant to carry the cross; don't know why."
Life wasn't always so easy. After the release of "The Exorcist," Blair, who says she was thoroughly unprepared for the fallout surrounding the film, was accused of being troubled or even deranged.
"Many times, people didn't understand me," she recalls. "When you're young and trying to figure out who you are -- to grow up with people saying, 'She's mentally depressed' or this or that -- that was hard for me. I was very sensitive."
This Friday, Blair gets to re-live all that head-spinning horror, and the emotions that came with it, when "The Exorcist -- The Version You've Never Seen" hits theaters. The new movie includes a full reel of footage cut from the original release, as well as a digitally remastered and remixed soundtrack.
Ask Blair, in Manhattan to promote the film, whether the re-release is a mixed bag for her, and she laughs out loud.
"We never had a premiere," she says. "The opening was so overwhelming for me, at such a young age. This way, I get to enjoy it."
Blair may recognize a kindred spirit in Haley Joel Osment, the talented child actor whose confession, "I see dead people," became the catch phrase for last year's hit, "The Sixth Sense." Young Osment may forever be dogged by that line, much as Blair has never completely freed herself of Regan, the possessed child she played a quarter-century earlier.
Even today, says Blair, she's occasionally recognized on the street as the blasphemous, vomit-spewing little girl from in the William Friedkin horror opus.
"All these years later, the world knows who I am," says Blair. "When it was first released, nobody understood who I was."
"The Exorcist" was the zenith of Blair's Hollywood career: She was nominated for an Oscar, and won a best supporting actress Golden Globe award for the role of Regan.
It was downhill from there. Blair went on to star in such B flicks as "Roller Boogie" (1979) "Red Heat" (1985), "Repossessed" (1990) and "Bedroom Eyes II" (1990).
Today, she still credits "The Exorcist" with establishing her in Hollywood.
"The good can outweigh the difficult times," she says. "...I've been able to do so much more because of 'The Exorcist.'"
Blair was already a pro by the time she auditioned for "The Exorcist," having appeared in some 75 commercials. (She'd even auditioned for TV's "Flipper.") But she was unprepared for what would happen after the film debuted.
The movie, which cost $12 million to make, grossed some $160 million domestically. It catapulted the somewhat naive Connecticut resident into Hollywood's stratosphere.
"I had planned to retire when I was 13," Blair muses. "I had wanted to be a veterinarian."
The movie industry had other plans.
A year after "The Exorcist," Blair made her TV movie debut in the juvenile- delinquency drama "Born Innocent." And she followed that with a string of solid performances, playing a teen with a drinking problem in "Sarah T.--Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic" (1975) and appearing with Kirk Douglas in "Victory at Entebbe" (1976). In 1978, she returned to the world of the supernatural, playing a victim to witchcraft in Wes Craven's "Stranger in Our House."
Today, Blair says that acting isn't her raison d'etre. "I do stuff here and there," she says. "But I do what I want to do now. I don't always get offered the work I want to do, but that's life."
She has interests beyond the camera. Blair, who says she grew up with cats, dogs and even a skunk, has become a one-woman voice for animal rights. In 1997, she produced a calendar of animals with their celebrity owners. Blair, now living in Los Angeles with two pooches and a horse, is a vocal proponent of spaying and neutering animals.
She's had a string of relationships, including a high-profile one with singer Rick Springfield, but Blair remains single. She's decided not to have children, says Blair, out of concern about over-population.
But if If not for "The Exorcist," says Blair, things might have been different.
"I'd be married with children and probably be a veterinarian," she says.
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