The Exorcist Wiki
Chris MacNeil
Biographical Information
Gender female
Eye color blue or green
Hair color red
Born 1939 (novel)
1941 (film)
Died 2016 (television series)
Affiliation(s) Regan MacNeil (daughter)
Howard MacNeil (ex-husband)
Jamie MacNeil (deceased son)
Henry Rance (son-in-law)
Casey Rance (grandaughter)
Kat Rance (grandaughter)
Portrayer(s) Ellen Burstyn (The Exorcist)
Sharon Gless (TV series)
You show me Regan's double, same face, same voice, everything. And I'd know it wasn't Regan. I'd know in my gut. And I'm telling you that 'thing' upstairs isn't my daughter. Now, I want you to tell me that you know for a fact that there's nothing wrong with my daughter, except in her mind. You tell me for a fact that an exorcism wouldn't do any good. You tell me that!

–Chris MacNeil

Christine "Chris" MacNeil is a character from the novel The Exorcist , its film adaptation and the television series . She is portrayed by Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist and by Sharon Gless in the television series. ☃☃ Chris is a famous actress who is living temporarily in Georgetown, Washington, DC.  Also at the residence with MacNeil is her daughter Regan, as well as with their housekeepers, Willie and Karl.  Karl has known MacNeil since 6 years ago.



Chris MacNeil had a son named Jamie when she was young and worked as an unknown chorus girl on Broadway with Howard MacNeil, who she eventually married. Jamie had an infection that wouldn't go away, and Chris's doctor at the time prescribed a new antibiotic that caused aplastic anemia. This caused Jamie to pass away at the age of 3. Chris decided that she would never be that close to anyone ever again. It also caused her to have a distrust of doctors. At the age of 20, she had a daughter, Regan. Shortly after Regan turned 11, Chris and Howard got a divorce. Howard felt that Chris put her career before him and Regan. Chris was the one who filed for divorce, but Howard was the one who wanted it. They were separated for long periods of time. Sometime around their divorce, Howard started dating someone else, but Regan was not aware of it.

On April 1, 1971, while at the MacNeil Residence, Chris is going through the script of a movie she is filming at Georgetown University while the students are gone for Easter break. The film is "a musical comedy remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," with a subplot involving college riots. At around 12:25 A.M., Chris hears rapping sounds coming from the attic. She takes Regan out for dinner that night after work, but Regan's new dress, which was supposed to be in her closet, goes missing. (Chris later finds it in her room.) Chris was also planning on directing a segment of Faith, Hope, and Charity. When Chris sees Regan's bird sculpture that she made for her, she notices that Regan was playing with her Ouija board with "Captain Howdy". Chris originally bought the Ouija board so she could explore her subconscious, but it didn't work. She played it with Sharon and Burke Dennings before. Since Chris is an athiest and does not believe that Ouija boards work, she thinks the name "Captain Howdy" came from Howard and that Regan feels bad about the divorce. That night, Regan says that she can't sleep because she hears noises, so Chris goes to the attic and sees nothing.

The day after, Chris writes a letter to her agent about possibly directing, accepts an invitation to dinner at the White House, sends a reminder for Howard to call Regan on her birthday, asks her agent if she can take a break for a year, and plans to throw a dinner wrap party on April 23rd. The next day, Chris takes Regan sight seeing, where she asks why people have to die.

That Tuesday, April 6, 1971, Regan has her 12th birthday. Chris takes her to the set of the movie and the cast and crew sing "Happy Birthday" and give Regan a cake. Howard didn't call on her birthday because he was on a yacht. Regan tells Chris that her bed was shaking.

On April 11, 1971, Chris calls her doctor, Marc, in Los Angeles, the only doctor that she trusts. After Regan's birthday, as Chris finishes her work on the film, Regan begins to become inexplicably ill. After a gradual series of poltergeist-like disturbances in their rented house, for which Chris attempts to find rational explanations, Regan begins to rapidly undergo disturbing psychological and physical changes: she refuses to eat or sleep, becomes withdrawn and frenetic, and increasingly aggressive and violent. Marc refers Chris to Dr. Samuel Klein in Rosslyn, Arlington, Virginia. Klein tells Chris about Regan's use of obscenities. He prescribes Ritalin and suggests waiting two weeks; he makes an appointment for her to see him again on April 27, 1971.

Chris finds out who the guests are that are coming to her dinner wrap party. Sharon tells Chris that the university president's assistant, Father Joseph Dyer, is coming to the party, along with Fr. Roy Wager, the Jesuit dean. This disappoints Chris as she hoped Father Damien Karras was coming to her party. (She saw him when she was working on her film.) The other guests who were invited to the party include Chris's director and friend, Burke Dennings, Chuck, the director of the second unit/the assistant director, Apollo astronaut Capt. Billy Cutshaw and his wife, a Senator and his wife, Martha, as well as Chris's neighbors, Mary Jo Perrin and Ellen Cleary.

On April 23, 1971, Chris throws the dinner wrap party. Mary Jo Perrin arrives with Robert, her teenage son. Chris asks Father Wagner what happens at Holy Trinity. He tells Chris about the desecrations. She inquires about Father Karras and he tells her about his mother and how she was living by herself. Wagner tells Chris that the landlord found her a couple of days after she passed away because the neighbors complained about the radio constantly being on. Burke gets into an argument with Karl. Chris goes into the basement to check on Regan and finds her playing with the Ouija board again. She then introduces Regan to the guests. Afterwards, Chris tucks Regan into bed and she asks her mother what is wrong with her. Chris tells her that it's just nerves. The Senator and Martha leave early because they had an incident with Burke where he told them, "There seems to be an alien pubic hair in my drink.... Never seen it before in my life. Have you?" Chris then asks Dyer about the desecrations. He tells her that Karras is an expert on witchcraft and he wrote a paper about it once, from the psychiatric side. Regan shows up and tells Cutshaw that he's gonna die in space and then urinates on the floor. Chris tells Willie to clean the rug before the stain becomes permanent. She bathes Regan, changes her nightgown, and tucks her into bed. When Chris goes back downstairs, Sharon and Chuck escort Burke out of the study. They called a taxi to take him back to his hotel suite at the Sheraton-Park. Chris briefly tells the guests about Regan's illness.

After the party, Chris asks Mary Jo Perrin about the Ouija board. Perrin suggests taking it away. She believes that she can see the future and she also believes in eternity. However, she stays away from the occult and thinks Ouija boards are dangerous. Perrin heard stories about Ouija boards opening up a door to the spirit world, or in Chris's case, the subconscious. She tells Chris a story of a family who was involved in the occult and went crazy. Chris debates about whether or not to get rid of the Ouija board. She thought about throwing it away, but decided not to because Regan could panic from being too dependent. Chris hears Regan screaming and then rushes to her room to find the bed shaking.

On April 26, 1971, Chris meets with Dr. Klein again, a day earlier than the scheduled appointment. He suggests giving Regan an EEG. The results come out normal. Dr. Klein thinks it could be epilepsy. He tells Chris that "two or three hundred years ago people with temperal lobe disorders were often considered to be possessed by a devil." Chris talks to her agent, Ed, who tells her she'll have to start preparing to direct right away, but she tells him they'll have to wait. Mary Jo Perrin checked out a book from the Georgetown University library about witchcraft titled A Study of Devil Worship and Related Occult Phenomena. Chris leaves the book on the table and the next morning, it disappears without anyone noticing.

On April 28, 1971, Dr. Klein and Dr. David, a neurologist, observe Regan's X-rays, which are still normal. Chris calls Dr. Klein on the phone and asks him to come over right away because Regan is behaving strangely. Regan kept being thrown onto the mattress by Pazuzu and she says that he's burning her. She says "nowonami" and then "the sow is mine!" Dr. David/Tanney suggests performing a spinal tap. Chris tells Dr. Klein that tomorrow they are going to lock the shutters. She also told him that Regan pointed at the kitchen door and said that "Captain Howdy" was there. Klein tests the results of the spinal tap and suggests having a nurse on hand to sedate Regan, but Chris refuses since she doesn't trust doctors. Sharon volunteers because she knows how to give an injection. Chris and Klein leave at 6:18 pm. Chris goes with Dr. Klein to his Rosslyn medical clinic. All of Regan's test results were normal, so he suggests a psychiatrist.

Chris gets back at 7:21 pm and nobody is home except for Regan. She sees that Regan's window is wide open. Willie got home at 7:35, followed by Sharon at 8:01 pm. Sharon tells Chris that she went to get Regan's Thorazine and let Burke babysit. Sharon teaches Chris how to give an injection when Karl gets home at 9:28 pm. They watch television in the study and Chuck calls Chris at 11:46 pm to tell her that Burke is dead. He said that it was an accident; Burke was drunk and fell down the stairs. He broke his neck. Around 5:00 A.M., Regan does her spider walk with serpent tongue and chases Sharon. Chris tells Sharon to get a doctor right away.

On April 29, 1971, Dr. Klein and a neuropsychiatrist observe Regan for half an hour. Klein gives Regan an injection and then the psychiatrist hypnotizes Regan. Regan attacks the psychiatrist. The psychiatrist thinks Regan has hysteria. He thinks it is caused by Chris and Howard's divorce. He suggests Regan spend 2 weeks at the Barringer Clinic in Dayton, Ohio. Chris is disappointed that she doesn't get to direct the film segment. The psychiatrist calls the Barringer Clinic and they agree to take Regan the next day. That same day, Lt. William F. Kinderman questions Chris about Burke. They go to the Barringer Clinic as planned. Once again, the treatments are unsuccessful. Dr. Barringer, however, suggests an exorcism.

On May 11, 1971, they got home, tucked Regan into bed, locked the shutters, and removed all Regan's mirrors. Dr. Klein teaches Chris and Sharon how to give Regan Sustagen feedings through a tube. Karl puts restraining straps on Regan and Chris finds a cross/crucifix underneath Regan's pillow. This angers Chris because she is an athiest. Chris reads through the book on witchcraft that Mary Jo Perrin lent her. Kinderman pays them a visit again. He notices that Chris is reading the book and suggests that demons are involved in Burke's murder. Kinderman asks Chris for her autograph before questioning Karl. Chris looks at the book on witchcraft and has a bad feeling. She asks Willie where she found the book and she revealed that it was in Regan's bedroom. Chris thinks of the window that was open in Regan's room that night and realizes that Regan was the one who killed Burke Dennings. Regan tells Chris, "Do you know what she did? Your c---ing daughter?"

Chris calls Mary Jo Perrin and tells her that Regan is okay. On May 12, 1971, Chris, who is worried and desperate, turns to a local Jesuit priest for help as Regan's personality becomes increasingly disturbed. Father Damien Karras, who is currently going through a crisis of faith coupled with the loss of his mother, agrees to see Regan as a psychiatrist, but initially resists the notion that it is an actual demonic possession. Chris tells Karras that they gave Regan 400 milligrams of Librium because she is so strong. She also tells him that they gave Regan Sustagen while sleeping but she ripped out the tubing. Karras thinks Regan should be in a hospital because he doesn't believe that she's possessed. Chris tells Karras the history of Regan's illness, but not about Burke. He asks her questions about Regan's normal behavior. He also asks about any letters or anything that could show Regan's normal speech patterns, as well as seeing Regan's medical records. Chris gives Karras a tape of Regan talking to her father and has the medical records sent to him. After meeting with Regan a second time, Karras asks Chris about one of Regan's personalities that seems British and she reveals that it is of Burke Dennings. She later tells him that Regan killed Burke.

On May 14, 1971, at 9:00 A.M., Karras meets with Bishop Michael requesting permission to perform an exorcism on Regan. Chris reads part of Father Merrin's book and tells Karras that it is beautiful. She also tells him about how Regan used to put flowers on her plate before work, but then remembers that he never met her. Chris meets Father Merrin, who arrives at her doorstep. She feels relieved when Merrin suggests beginning the exorcism right away. Merrin and Chris discuss names. She feels a lot calmer and safe with him there. She wants to watch Merrin and Karras perform the exorcism, but Father Karras tells her not to. During part of the exorcism, Chris enters the room to give Regan an injection. She can't do it, so she swabs Regan's arm and then leaves. She later gives Karras permission for a cardiac specialist to see Regan.

On May 16, 1971, Chris looks at photos of Regan. She cries intensely while Sharon comforts her. Shortly thereafter, she hears breaking glass upstairs. Chris and Sharon rush upstairs to Regan's bedroom and find Merrin and Karras dead. She also finds a confused, sobbing, normal Regan. Sometime afterwards, Chris attends Karras' funeral.

On June 27, 1971, Father Dyer stops by to say goodbye. Chris looks at Regan's rose and remembers that Merrin and Karras never met Regan. She says about Karras, "I've never seen such faith in my life". Dyer asks Chris about her beliefs and what she thought happened since she is an athiest:

Well, like you say... as far as God goes, I am a nonbeliever. Still am. But when it comes to a devil - well, that's something else. I could buy that. I do, in fact. I do. And it isn't just what happened to Rags. I mean, generally. You come to God and you have to figure if there is one, then he must need a million years' sleep every night or else he tends to get irritable. Know what I mean? He never talks. But the devil keeps advertising, Father. The devil does lots of commmercials.

–Chris MacNeil to Father Dyer about her beliefs

Afterwards, Chris and Regan leave for Los Angeles. [1] [2]


Regan starts acting strangely after playing with an Ouija board with her imaginary friend "Captain Howdy". Her changed behavior starts when she says that her bed is shaking, and later involves abnormal strength & constant swearing. Regan is given Ritalin and a few unpleasant tests, but Dr. Klein and his colleagues find nothing physically wrong with her.

One night, having been left in the care of Burke Dennings, Chris's director on a current movie she is filming, Chris returns home to find Burke has died after falling from Regan's bedroom window. Shortly afterward a detective named Kinderman pays a visit to Chris and explains Burke was most likely killed before he fell. Chris understands this means that Regan killed him, but manages to get Kinderman to leave without him coming to the same conclusion.

After the doctors are unable to confirm a medical or psychiatric diagnosis for Regan, they suggest Regan gets an exorcism as a kind of 'shock treatment'. A skeptical but desperate Chris seeks advice from Father Damien Karras who is also a trained psychiatrist, but losing faith in God after his mother's recent death. Believing Regan's problems are caused by mental illness, he agrees to see her as a psychiatrist. Chris is seen telling someone on the phone that Regan is okay. It could be either Howard MacNeil or Mary Jo Perrin. Chris' hopelessness and worry cause her to admit to Karras that Regan killed Burke Dennings. Karras is approached by Chris, who asks if Regan will die, which strengthens Karras' faith and resolve to save her.

Sharon Spencer gives Chris Father Karras' St. Joseph medal that she found in Regan's room. Chris offers to give the medal to Father Dyer, but he tells her that she should keep it, suggesting that Chris is open to faith.

Television Series[]

Sharon Gless as Chris MacNeil in the Exorcist episode "Chapter Five: Through My Most Grievous Fault"

Main article: Chris MacNeil (TV series). Note that the television series follows a slightly different timeline than the original.

In the episode, "Chapter 5: Through My Most Grevious Fault," Chris shows up at the Rances' doorstep and says, "I'm Chris MacNeil. I'm here to see my daughter", revealing that Angela Rance is actually Regan MacNeil as an adult.

Chris hired three private detectives to track the Rance family down. She finally returned to Regan's life when her possessed daughter Casey went missing. She identified herself to Henry Rance and met Casey's sister Kat, who asked her about her previous experience with Regan. Her arrival angered Angela, but Henry insisted Chris to stay, so she could help find Casey. To Angela's irritation, Chris called in a reporter to discuss the case, as her own way to help. Angela comfronted Chris over their past, when Angela, as the young Regan, felt exploited by her mother only for her "precious acting career" to be saved. When a corpse rumored to be Casey's was found and confirmed not to be hers, Angela and Chris forgot their differences and hugged. When Angela became desperate with Casey's fate, Chris told her she knew Angela was a "wonderful mom". Angela then told Chris that she thought her mother "got off easy", as she just watched as Regan became possessed, but that now with Casey being taken the same way, Angela realized the experience of watching was just as painful. Father Tomas then revealed to the Rances that he and Father Marcus had been keeping in the church all the time, attempting to release her from the demon spirit.

When Angela told Henry to move out of town with Kat, fearing the repercussion of Casey's possession on her life the same way it threatened hers, Chris offered a house in Palm Springs to which initially Henry refused. After Casey was fully exorcized, the Rances prepared to move and Chris approached Angela, decided to start a new relationship with her. Angela, however, acted mean and rancorous towards Chris, until the demonic entity inside Angela revealed itself, breaking Chris' neck. Chris' body rolled down the staircase as the demon, once again inside Regan, smirked.[3]

Personality and traits[]

Chris is a gentle mother to Regan and a good friend to her servants but she can also be very aggressive to other people when she starts losing her patience or become desperate and worried, though she tries to avoid Regan seeing her like that. She is an atheist and probably had passed her beliefs to her daughter. She knows that Regan killed Burke, but she doesn't want to admit it because she doesn't want Regan to go to jail or get into trouble. She also refuses to put Regan in a hospital for long term treatment/observation because she knows that it is not Regan's normal behavior. After the events of The Exorcist, she seems to feel guilty, not only for what happened to Regan, but also for the deaths of Burke Dennings, Father Merrin, and Father Karras during her daughter's possession.

Notes and trivia[]

  • Burstyn received a permanent spinal injury during filming. In the sequence where she is thrown away from her possessed daughter, a harness jerked her hard away from the bed. She fell on her coccyx and screamed in pain.
  • Ellen Burstyn agreed to doing the movie only if her character didn't have to say the scripted line: "I believe in the devil!" The producers agreed to eliminate the utterance.
  • Geraldine Page turned down the role of the mother that went to Burstyn.
  • Barbra Streisand declined the role of Chris McNeil.
  • Lee Remick, Carol Burnett and Raquel Welch were considered to play Chris McNeil.
  • Jane Fonda was offered the role of Chris MacNeil but declined it. This was during the Vietnam War, when she was notorious for her outspoken radical opinions, and it was rumored she had called the movie "a bunch of capitalist ripoff bulls***". However, in his book William Peter Blatty on "The Exorcist": From Novel to Film, the author reported that Fonda visited him personally to tell him the rumor was not true. She told him she had turned down the role because she didn't believe in fairy tales.
  • Shirley MacLaine turned down the role of Chris Macneil in order to make the similar, though much less successful, The Possession of Joel Delaney (1972).
  • According to Variety magazine, it was revealed that Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds were contenders for the roles of Regan and Chris MacNeil.
  • Anne Bancroft was another choice but she was in her first month of pregnancy and was dropped.
  • Audrey Hepburn was William Friedkin's first choice to play the role of Chris MacNeil, and Warner Brothers supported him because of her good critical/commercial reputation with the studio, but she only agreed to do it if it was filmed in Rome.
  • When offered to reprise her role for Exorcist II: The Heretic, Ellen Burnstyn kept refusing the part.
  • The screenwriter for Exorcist II The Heretic suggested Jane Fonda or Ann-Margret before Boorman decided upon Louise Fletcher who was originally cast as Chris MacNeil when the role was still in the script.
  • Despite Ellen Burstyn's repeated refusals of the offer to return for Exorcist II The Heretic, most drafts of the screenplay featured Chris in a central role, eventually dying at the end of the film and passing Regan's custody onto Father Lamont. Louise Fletcher was originally cast as Chris after Burnstyn kept refusing, but when they couldn't find a male actor to portray Dr. Gene Tuskin, they recast Fletcher as Dr. Tuskin and then contacted Kitty Winn to reprise her role as Sharon, replacing the role of Chris.[4]
  • The Exorcist character of Angela Rance is an updated version of Chris MacNeil, until Chris herself appears and Angela's real identity is revealed.


  1. Blatty, William Peter. The Exorcist. New York: Harper & Row. 1971. Print.
  2. Blatty, William Peter. William Peter Blatty on "The Exorcist": From Novel to Film. New York: Macmillan, March 2015. eBook.
  3. Prudom, Laura. "Inside the game-changing 'Exorcist' twist you didn't see coming". Mashable. 22 October 2016. Retrieved 22 October 2016. Web.
  4. "Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) - Trivia", IMDb, 1990-2016. Retrieved 21 October 2016. Web.