By Tyler Aquilina
October 24, 2020 at 12:51 PM EDT
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Credit: Kevin Parry/WireImage

William Blinn, a veteran writer known for his work on Purple RainRoots, and Brian's Song and for creating the series Starsky & Hutch, has died. He was 83.

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

A two-time Emmy winner for Roots and the acclaimed television film Brian's Song, Blinn was born in 1937 in Toledo, Ohio and attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. He soon turned away from acting, however, and ventured to Los Angeles to pursue TV writing in the 1960s. His credits included Bonanza, on which he worked as a staff writer, Rawhide, and Gunsmoke, and he went on to develop The Rookies and ABC's Eight Is Enough. He also created the popular cop show Starsky & Hutch, but left the series early in its run over creative differences with the producers.

Blinn was a staff writer for Columbia Pictures' Screen Gems when he was assigned to work on the project that would become Brian's Song for ABC. The TV movie was based on the true story of Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers (played by Billy Dee Williams) and his friendship with teammate Brian Piccolo (James Caan), who was diagnosed with terminal cancer soon after joining the team. Blinn penned the script for Brian's Song, which aired in 1971 and became the most-watched made-for-TV movie at the time. It was also acclaimed by critics, and Blinn's script earned him an Emmy and Peabody Award.

"I can't tell you how many times guys have said to me, 'It's the first time I cried around other guys,'" Blinn said in a 2005 TV Academy interview. "Manipulative? Yes, sure it is. Sentimental? Yes, sure it is. So what?"

Blinn's work on the NBC series Fame helped land him the job writing the Prince film Purple Rain, his only feature screenplay credit. Blinn was reluctant to take the gig until the musician played him the song "When Doves Cry," which he had written for the film.

"For someone my age, I like rock music, but I don't like a lot of it. Nevertheless [the song] was melodic, and played with great intensity," Blinn recalled in a 2004 interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I said 'Man, you've certainly got a foundation. This can pay off at the end.'"

"I watched it about a year ago, and for a 20-year-old movie it's held up pretty well. Sometimes when you go back, you think 'That wasn't a good idea,'" he added at the time. "For [young people] it was seminal. It took their music and said, 'We can do a musical, just like the big boys.'...The movie could've been more edgy, but for what it was, we came up with a very good picture."

In addition to his daughter, Blinn is survived by his son, Chris, and four grandchildren.

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