William Blinn, ‘Brian’s Song,’ ‘Roots,’ ‘Purple Rain’ writer, dead at 83

BURBANK, Calif. — Screenwriter William Blinn, known for the epic television productions of “Brian’s Song” and “Roots” and the Prince movie “Purple Rain,” died Thursday. He was 83.

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His family said he died of natural causes.

“(He was a) pioneer who went against the grain and wrote and created what he felt,” daughter Annaliese Johnson said. “He wanted to create what really felt organic and authentic. He never acquiesced to the industry.”

Blinn got his start on shows including “Rawhide,” “Bonanza,” and “My Favorite Martian.” He later created and produced “Starsky & Hutch,” “The Rookies,” and “Pensacola: Wings of Gold.”

He was awarded an Emmy and Peabody for the 1971 TV movie “Brian’s Song” which followed the friendship of Chicago Bears players Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo, who were roommates at a time when that was rare for Black and white players. They became closer after Piccolo’s cancer diagnosis, which proved terminal in 1970. Sayers died last month at 77. James Caan and Billy Dee Williams portrayed the two.

Blinn also adapted Alex Haley’s book “Roots,” about his African American ancestors during the time of slavery, into a 1977 miniseries. It won an Emmy and a Humanitas Prize.

Blinn wrote “Purple Rain” with Albert Magnoli, who directed the 1984 film starring Prince.

He is survived by his daughter, Johnson, a son, Chris, and multiple grandchildren.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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