Mills, a longtime friend and collaborator of “Treme” co-creator/exec producer David Simon, died Tuesday after suffering a brain aneurysm while working on the series that is set and shot in New Orleans. The “Treme” company held a memorial service Wednesday for Mills in New Orleans’ Washington Square Park.
Mills, who was 48, was in the Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter when he collapsed. He was rushed to downtown Tulane Medical Center where he died without regaining consciousness, said HBO spokesman Diego Aldana.
Mills, an award-winning scribe and former newspaper journo, wrote for such notable series as “The Wire,” “NYPD Blue” and “Homicide: Life on the Street.”
In a statement issued Wednesday, HBO called Mills “a gracious and humble man (who) will be sorely missed by those who knew and loved him, as well as those who were aware of his immense talent. David has left us too soon but his brilliant work will live on.”
Simon had been friends with Mills since their days at the U. of Maryland.
“He was an enormous talent. He loved words and he loved an argument, but not in any angry or mean-spirited way,” Simon said in a statement. “He loved to argue ideas. He delighted in it, and he was confident that something smarter and deeper always came from a good argument.”
That sentiment was echoed by David Milch, who hired Mills to work on the landmark ABC copshow “NYPD Blue.”
“He was a wonderful writer and improved my work considerably,” Milch said. “He was a fierce advocate for his perspective on the world.”
Milch recalled meeting Mills after the young writer sent the exec producer a letter following a speech in which Milch acknowledged that as a writer-producer, he was more comfortable in working with people of a similar background. Milch recalls that Mills’ letter took him to task: ” ‘Congrats on securing work for so many mediocre white so-and-sos.’ I’m cleaning up the language here.”
The two kept in touch over the years. “He would write to me two to three times a year. He would keep me current on what he was doing and suggest ways I could improve on my work,” Milch said.
“David was a wonderful writer, an intelligent and thoughtful man, intellectually inquisitive and narratively rigorous,” said producer-writer John Wells in a statement. “All of us who had the great privilege of knowing him and working with him on ‘ER’ are shocked and sadden. His death is a loss to all of us in the writing community.”
Born in Washington, D.C., Mills worked at the Wall Street Journal, Washington Times and Washington Post after graduating from the U. of Maryland. He made headlines with his 1992 story for the Post that featured an interview with rap star Sistah Souljah in the wake of the L.A. riots and the Rodney King beating, in which the rapper posited: “If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?”
The ensuing outcry even drew in presidential candidate Bill Clinton who criticized her and the Rev. Jesse Jackson for inviting Souljah to speak at the Rainbow Coalition convention.
In 1994, Simon helped Mills break into TV when they co-wrote the “Bop Gun” episode for the second season of NBC’s “Homicide.” It would bring the duo an Emmy and a WGA Award.
After “Homicide,” Mills worked on some primetime’s top dramas, including CBS’ “Picket Fences” and NBC’s “ER” He created and exec produced the 2003 NBC mini “Kingpin” about a powerful Mexican drug family.
During a 1997 roundtable with Variety’s Brian Lowry, Mills spoke of the pressure he felt to produce a level of drama that would stand apart from the crowd.
“When you think of what stories to tell, and what characters to create, you have to raise the bar really high: Is this story compelling enough? Are these characters real enough? There’s just so much out there — how do you stand out amid everything else that’s out there in the pop culture?”
Mills earned two Emmys during his career, one that he shared with Simon for writing an episode of “The Corner,” the HBO mini about a drug-addled neighborhood in Baltimore, as well as the best mini honor that “Corner” took in 2000. He earned a second WGA laurel for his work on “The Wire,” as well as a Humanitas Prize and Edgar Allan Poe kudos.
In recent years Mills penned a blog dubbed Undercover Black Man, which was mostly about music. The last entry he made was Monday when he posted a trailer for “Treme.”
Survivors include two sisters and a brother. Services in Washington, D.C. are being planned.
(Brian Lowry contributed to this report.)
For appreciations of Mills’ work go to Variety.com blogs BLTV and On the Air.