William Blinn Dies: Emmy-Winning Screenwriter For ‘Brian’s Song’ And ‘Roots’ Was 83

Bruce Haring
·2-min read

William Blinn, the screenwriter for Prince’s Purple Rain and creator of Starsky & Hutch, has died at age 83. He passed Thursday of natural causes at an assisted living community in Burbank, according to his daughter, Anneliese Johnson.

“If you were an aspiring writer in the 70’s & 80’s, like I was, Bill’s work defined what it was to write powerful, impactful, game-changing drama,” said friend and fellow screenwriter Robbie Fox.

During a four-decade career as a writer, producer and drama specialist, Blinn wrote for Bonanza, developed Eight Is Enough, and created The Interns, The Rookies and Pensacola: Wings of Gold.

Blinn co-wrote Purple Rain with director Albert Magnoli. He was offered the 1984 film thanks to his work as a writer and executive producer on Fame, which extensively integrated music into the show.

Blinn was working as a staff writer for Screen Gems when he was tabbed to adapt a chapter of the autobiography I Am Third by Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers. That project became Brian’s Song, which became a cultural landmark when it aired in 1971, the fourth most-watched film to ever air on television. Blinn received an Emmy and a Peabody Award for his writing on the telefilm.

Five years later, Blinn was again honored with an Emmy for his work on for Roots. The series proved to be another blockbuster, seen by an overwhelming number of the US, with the final episode drawing more than 100 million viewers in January 1977.

Blinn was born on July 21, 1937, in Toledo, Ohio. After graduating in 1955 from DeVilbiss High School, he was accepted into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. His acting aspirations soon fizzled, but reading so many plays convinced him that he could do better than most of the writers creating the works.

He came to Los Angeles in the early 1960s and sold story ideas and/or scripts to such shows as Maverick, Rawhide, Laramie and My Favorite Martian, among many others.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his son, Chris, and his grandchildren, Mackenzie, Eden, Zachary and Zoe.

There will be no immediate funeral, but the family is planning a virtual celebration of his life, to be announced soon.

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