William Blinn, a screenwriter for the landmark TV projects Brian’s Song and Roots and the Prince film Purple Rain, has died at 83. Blinn died Thursday of natural causes at an assisted living community in Burbank, California, his daughter, Anneliese Johnson, said Saturday. He won Emmy and Peabody honors 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 a enduring favorite with sports fans and critics. Last month, Hall of Fame running back Sayers died at age 77.
Blinn’s work on Roots, the blockbuster 1977 miniseries adapted from Alex Haley’s book about his African American ancestors in slavery and freedom, 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 1960s shows Rawhide, Bonnaza and My Favorite Martian. He went on to create and produce shows, among them Starsky & Hutch, The Rookies and Pensacola: Wings of Gold, in a career that spanned five decades.
Brian’s Song, starring James Caan as Piccolo and Billy Dee Williams as Sayers, 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. 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.