By Joseph Collins, Staff Writer
Linda Blair has been scaring audiences ever since her iconic, breakout role as the little girl possessed by a demon in the 1973 classic horror thriller, “The Exorcist.” But Miss Blair has been doing far more with her time than scaring movie goers and television viewers since she first came into the public eye. As a long-time animal lover, Linda Blair has also been active for decades as an animal rights advocate. Since founding her organization, The Linda Blair Worldheart Foundation, she has rescued hundreds of abandoned, abused and neglected animals and given them the love and attention that they need. Committed to the cause, and working tirelessly every day, Blair is determined to make the world a better and safer place for animals here in the U.S. and, eventually, around the world.
Linda Blair was born into a stable, middle-class family on January 22, 1959, in St. Louis, Missouri. She was the third child born to James and Elinore Blair. When Linda was just two years old, her father took a job as an executive recruiter in New York City, making it necessary for the family to move. In 1961, the Blair family relocated to Westport, Connecticut, a wealthy community just 50 miles north of New York. Before long, Linda’s parents introduced her to the field of modeling. (New York City is one of the top 4 cities in the world for modeling.) At the age of five, Linda Blair began taking small modeling jobs for Sears, Macy’s and J.C. Penney catalogues. Not long afterwards, she started appearing in TV commercials, and at six signed a contract to do print ads in the New York Times.
By the time she was 10 years old, Linda Blair started acting, taking her first role in a short-lived TV soap opera called Hidden Faces. That was followed by several feature movie roles including, “The Way We Live Today (1970)” and “The Sporting Club (1971).”
But it wasn’t until she was fourteen and took on the role of Regan McNeil for the terrifying horror thriller, “The Exorcist,” that she really came into her own and became a star. After auditioning for the role, she was finally chosen out of a lineup of six hundred girls. The movie went on to become an international blockbuster and even won two Academy Awards. To this day, it is widely considered one of the top horror films of all time, making it onto dozens of top 10 lists.
From there, she went on to star in several additional movies, both theatrical and made-for-TV, including the controversial “Born Innocent,” “Sarah T – Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic,” “Hell Night,” and as host to the popular TV reality show of the early 21st century, “The Scariest Places on Earth.”
But it was one chance encounter with a stray dog years later that led to an undertaking that would change the course of her life.
A PIT BULL NAMED SUNNY
As an animal lover since she was a child, Linda Blair had a great affinity for animals and naturally felt protective of them. Years later, as an adult, she became actively involved in the animal rights movement, and eventually changed her diet to vegetarian when she was 29.
“In 1988 I was reading an article on pesticides, acid rain and how we farm animals and that’s what made me go vegetarian,” said Blair. “And it’s certainly changed my life. You just become more aware of foods and the atrocities to animals, what we’re doing to the animals, the planet. The fact is that everything goes hand in hand. …how we farm animals affects the environment, affects the riverbeds, affects the air, and that’s what a lot of people don’t realize. So not only is it cruel for the animals… but it’s also bad for the planet.” After thirteen years as a vegetarian, Blair switched over to a vegan diet, and even wrote a book about her experience and the diet’s benefits, called “Going Vegan! (2001).”
As Blair became more involved in the animal rights movement, she spent a great deal of time and energy devoted to helping them. She became involved in a variety of organizations that rescue and defend animals, the Humane Society of America and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). In addition, she has also helped her fellow man by working with Feed the Children and by attending AIDS fund-raising events. But by and large, her main charitable focus has been to help needy animals, especially dogs. However, it wasn’t until several years later that she would found her own organization and her life would gain a whole new focus.
One day, in 2004, while returning home, Linda Blair suddenly found herself being followed by a stray pit bull. Not knowing much about the breed (other than the stereotype about them being aggressive), she put her dog inside when she got home – just to be safe – and remained outside to see what would happen. A moment later the pit bull turned into her driveway and just hung around, showing no signs of aggression.
“The media had conditioned me to be afraid that this dog would kill me,” she says, “but in fact he was just asking for my help.”
Realizing that the pit bull was thirsty, she brought out some water for him, and, moments later, a life-long friendship had begun. Blair subsequently adopted the dog, calling him Sunny. This chance encounter opened up her eyes to the plight of pit bulls and other needy dogs who unfairly have a reputation for being dangerous and unmanageable. Her experience with Sunny made her think about how many other animals there were out there, who were abandoned and in desperate need of help. The more she thought about it, the more she realized she had to do something about it.
ESTABLISHING HER FOUNDATION
Blair soon established the Linda Blair Worldheart Foundation (LBWF), an organization dedicated to helping animals and fighting animal cruelty. The focus of LBWF is to educate the public, rescue animals, and finding loving homes for strays who are living alone on the street. And any animals that are not adoptable (due to health problems or other issues) are kept at the LBWF compound to live out their lives in comfort and peace. Essentially, the organization is a safe haven for all animals that are taken in.
About a year after founding LBWF, Blair travelled to the southern United States in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to volunteer her time to help. While there, the plight of abandoned animals was further highlighted by the large numbers of homeless and abandoned animals she witnessed. During her time in the South, Blair ended up rescuing 51 abandoned dogs. Upon returning home to California, she immediately went back to running her organization and decided to expand her animal rescue operations. To date, she has rescued several hundred stray dogs and helped them find new homes. In addition, she has helped to raise awareness about the importance of spaying and neutering animals, and she has spoken out against animal abuse and neglect.
“Animal shelters used to be places where families went to adopt a pet,” Blair says. “Now, they’ve become places where people abandon their animal companions because they can’t afford pet food or vet care.” Appalled by this situation, and driven by the need to change it, Blair is constantly on the go. She can frequently be found hosting adoption events, making appearances and giving lectures on animal rights and care. When she’s not engaged in one of these charitable actions, Linda Blair is usually at the compound looking after or exercising the dogs.
Furthermore, the animals at the LBWF compound receive more than just the basics (food, water, shelter, and affection), they also receive training, socialization, medical care, behavior rehabilitation (if necessary), and anything else they might need to help make their stay a happy one and to prepare them for their forever home.
SCARING UP FUNDS
More recently, Blair has teamed up with the Haunts Against Hunger food-drive movement, which uses the excitement of the Halloween season to “scare away hunger.” Although the annual, nationwide initiative started out to address the issue of human hunger, it was Blair who approached them with the idea of collecting food for animals as well.
“Linda has long been recognized as a talented actress, humanitarian, and animal lover,” says Thom Kramer of Haunts Against Hunger. “Linda made the suggestion that not only should we collect human food, but also collect food for animals in need at local pet shelters. Starting this year (2012), Haunts Against Hunger drives will also collect food for pets in need in the spirit of the Worldheart Foundation. Linda is also helping us lead the charge to bring the food drive to a national level. Linda is an inspiration to us all.”
In the same year, on October 30th, Blair was also a guest of honor at a fundraiser for New Jersey’s Vet-I-Care, which offers grants to people who can’t afford medical care for their pets’ emergency needs.
In addition, Blair has also collaborated with Reader’s Digest to promote the “Be Afraid of the Dark” movie collection to raise money for her foundation. “I want to make it go national,” she says of LBWF. The goal is to expand the organization, so she can help as many animals as possible.
Although Blair and her organization faced some tough times during the recent economic recession – including the threat of foreclosure – she scrambled and worked hard to keep the LBWF compound open and her whole operation up and running. Today, 13 years after the organization’s birth, the LBWF is still going strong and saving countless animal lives.
“I don’t really work enough anymore…,” says Blair of her acting career. “My job is to make a difference while I’m here. I say to people: ‘Get involved!’”
To those who ask what they can do to help, there are numerous ways to get involved. In addition to making donations, you can also volunteer your time directly at a nearby shelter. Then, of course, you can adopt an animal of your own. In the end, it doesn’t take a lot of work to make a significant impact. As Blair says: “If you adopt from your local shelter, you’re helping. Together we can make a difference.”