'Brian's Song,' 'Roots' and 'Purple Rain' writer William Blinn dead at 83

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William Blinn, the screenwriter behind immensely popular and thought-provoking TV movies such as "Brian's Song" and "Roots," as well as the motion picture "Purple Rain," starring Prince, died at age 83.

Blinn died Thursday of natural causes at an assisted-living community in Burbank, Calif., his daughter, Anneliese Johnson, said Saturday.

Among his many accolades, Blinn won both Emmy and Peabody awards for the 1971 TV movie “Brian's Song," which dramatized the friendship of Chicago Bears players Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers. It was a hit when it aired and is an enduring favorite with sports fans and critics.

The original film starred James Caan and Billy Dee Williams. It portrayed the two bonding when they became roommates on the road, rare at the time for Black and White players. They drew closer when Piccolo was diagnosed with cancer that proved terminal in 1970. "Brian's Song" was remade in 2001 starring Sean Maher and Mekhi Phifer.

Writer William Blinn, winner of the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award, attends the 2009 Writers Guild Awards at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel on February 7, 2009 in Century City, California. 
(Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage)

Last month, Hall of Fame running back Sayers died at age 77.

Blinn was also well known for his work on “Roots,” the blockbuster 1977 miniseries adapted from Alex Haley's book about his African American ancestors in slavery and freedom. The miniseries won an Emmy and a Humanitas Prize.

“He was a master of his art and a gentleman of the first order. Rest easy, my friend,” actor Jim Beaver ("Deadwood," “Supernatural”) posted on Twitter.

Johnson described her father as a “pioneer who went against the grain and wrote and created what he felt. … He wanted to create what really felt organic and authentic. He never acquiesced to the industry."

Blinn was modest about his accomplishments and the accolades he received, she said, with a “humble, grounded view of life” that he imparted to his family.

A native of Toledo, Ohio, Blinn's early TV credits included the 1960's shows “Rawhide,” “Bonanza” and “My Favorite Martian.” He went on to create and produce television shows; among them “Starsky & Hutch,” “The Rookies,” and “Pensacola: Wings of Gold,” in a career that spanned five decades.

Blinn and Albert Magnoli wrote 1984′s “Purple Rain,” which Magnoli directed.


Besides his daughter, Blinn's survivors include his son, Chris, and his grandchildren.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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