William Blinn, the two-time Emmy-winning screenwriter of “Brian’s Song” and “Roots,” died on Thursday, his daughter Anneliese Johnson confirmed to Variety. He was 83.
Blinn died of natural causes at an assisted living community in Burbank, according to his daughter.
Blinn penned two landmark TV productions of the 1970s, both for ABC. The 1971 TV movie “Brian’s Song” was a commercial and creative triumph that garnered five Emmys and other accolades.
The film revolved around the true story of two Chicago Bears pro football players — one white (Brian Piccolo, played by James Caan), one Black (Gale Sayers, played by Billy Dee Williams) — who forge a deep bond as one of them dies of cancer. Sayers died last month at the age of 77. It was viewed by 55 million people when it premiered on Nov. 30, 1971. At the time it ranked as the fourth most-watched film ever to air on television.
Born in Toledo, Ohio, Blinn moved to Los Angeles for college, where he launched his career as a television writer-producer in the 1960s. In 1972, the writer also successfully pitched the police drama “The Rookies” to producer Aaron Spelling. After two years on the ABC series, Blinn penned the pilot for the long-running family drama “Eight is Enough.” He also produced the first three seasons of of musical drama “Fame.” Blinn won his second Emmy award in 1977 for outstanding writing in a drama series for his work on “Roots,” in addition to a Humanitas prize in the 60 minutes category.
Blinn wrote one feature screenplay, the Prince-starrer “Purple Rain,” in 1984 with co-writer and director Albert Magnoli. The autobiographical vehicle grossed over $70 million at the box office.
Blinn received the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award from Writers Guild of America in 2009. His long list of credits ranged from serving as a staff writer on “Bonanza” in the mid-1960s to working on the 1990s syndicated drama “Pensacola: Wings of Gold.”
“He was humble, pensive, very fair, sensitive, generous, simple, intimidating to many but a huge heart of gold, so intelligent, an introvert… my dad,” Anneliese Johnson told Variety.
In addition to Anneliese, Blinn is survived by a son, Chris; and grandchildren Mackenzie, Eden, Zachary and Zoe.