In the 1973 cult horror classic The Exorcist, Linda Blair portrayed a young girl fighting off demonic forces. Her performance was captivating. Behind the scenes, however, she had dreams of one day becoming a veterinarian.
Fate had other plans, and acting became her career. In a recent interview, she told me that fighting for animal rights has always been her passion. “I have dedicated my life to this work,” she said, adding that it’s a critical time for animals. “I’m declaring that the state of California, the entire country, is in a state of emergency for companion animals.”
Blair has always been committed to her humanitarian endeavors. In 2003, she founded the Linda Blair Worldheart Foundation. By her count, she has saved more than 3,000 dogs and her work is nowhere near finished.
This calling became clear to her when she was a child, even before that life-changing role as Regan, a possessed child who would endure an exorcism. She clarifies that her lifesaving work with animals began in the 1980s, focusing on animal welfare and environmental preservation on land and in the oceans.
“I told my mother I wanted to be a doctor to the animals,” she explained. But fate had intervened with her childhood goals; by age 12, she’d done 75 commercials. She lived in Connecticut and worked in New York when her acting and modeling career took off beyond her wildest dreams.
Her original dream of becoming a veterinarian was sidelined, but this wouldn’t stop her from helping animals. First, she had to focus on what would be an incredibly grueling job of prepping for and then filming The Exorcist.
The movie became a worldwide phenomenon and the first horror film nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. It garnered Blair an Academy Award nomination and Golden Globe and People’s Choice Award wins.
“We all know the movie became a classic, but no one understood it at the time,” she explained. “It took about six months of makeup and rehearsals before we even shot the film. The movie took off around the world. It was shocking.”
Despite the enormous success, her heart remained with finding a way to help animals. “Animals were always my passion.” She never lost focus; as she said, her love for animals grew more profound over the years. Acting roles continued to come her way, and she took the work.
Simultaneously, however, she knew she could also continue her work saving animals. “I felt compelled to do something about the mistreatment many animals suffer.” She was already motivated, and then something devastating happened.
In her twenties, she was doing a play entitled Women Behind Bars at The Roxy Theatre, and her beloved Jack Russell Terrier was stolen. “That was my baby,” she said, the emotion audible in her voice all these years later.
She did everything possible to find her dog, including several television and print interviews. “I never saw my dog again, and this experience changed the course of my life. I never forgot; I’m still angry and upset.”
Blair then got involved with animal rescue and, under the tutelage of actress Tippi Hedren, among others, began educating herself on animal welfare and how to start a foundation. “I was fully engaged. I volunteered for every large group and felt I could do better. I felt the money wasn’t going to the animals, and I wanted to do what needed to be done.”
Over the following years, she was involved in numerous rescue efforts in Los Angeles and 51 rescues from Hurricane Katrina. Then, in 2003, she formed her foundation and has since honed her expertise in canine behavior and rehabilitation.
Through her Worldheart Foundation, she’s focused on finding a solution to the ever-worsening crisis companion animals are facing in California and across the country, including pet overpopulation, alarmingly high euthanasia rates, and a lack of veterinary care.
She and her team work tirelessly to find forever homes for as many abandoned and homeless pets as possible and provide affordable and nutritious dog feeding programs to combat canine cancer and promote canine longevity.
Blair also aims to help large-breed dogs, which have been banned in many states. She has stopped such bans in some locations through her foundation, though the fight continues.
Though dogs are a focus, Blair loves all animals. She cares for the feral cats in her community and supports farm animals by living a vegan lifestyle. As for the latter, she co-wrote the book “Going Vegan” with Sunny J. Harris.
This year, Blair reprised her iconic role in Blumhouse’s The Exorcist: Believer, along with co-star Ellen Burstyn. At the same time, she remained hard at work with her foundation on several initiatives, including a mandatory spay and neuter program, a moratorium on backyard breeding, ensuring all animals are microchipped, and, of course, helping as many animals as possible get adopted into loving homes.
“Donations go directly towards the animals,” she confirmed, adding that Los Angeles County has resources for those struggling financially to prevent people from bringing their animals to a shelter during this critical time.
“There are vouchers for food, medical care, and spay and neuter. Also, you can get boarding for a month if you’ve lost your home. We are in a crisis in America; it won’t be stoppable if we don’t stop it now.”