October 01, 2010

Stephen J. Cannell, Emmy-Winning Writer-Producer, Passes at 69

The television icon was the force behind such series as The Rockford Files, The A-Team and 21 Jump Street.

Stephen J. Cannell, who overcame dyslexia to become one of the most prolific writer-producers in television, as well as a best-selling author, died September 30, 2010, at his home in Pasadena, California. He was 69.

According to news reports, Cannell died from complications related to melanoma.

Cannell’s family released the following statement about the producer who wrote for iconic series including Adam-12, Mission: Impossible and It Takes a Thief before founding a company that created a string of series that included The Rockford Files, The A-Team, The Greatest American Hero, 21 Jump Street, Wiseguy and more:

“Aside from being a legendary television producer and prolific writer, Stephen was also a devoted husband, loving father and grandfather, and a loyal friend. Mr. Cannell is survived by his high school sweetheart and wife of 46 years, Marcia, their three children, Tawnia, Chelsea and Cody and three grandchildren. Stephen was a pillar of strength within his family and he touched everyone he met. He will be most deeply missed.”

Cannell was born February 5, 1941, in Los Angeles. His father owned a successful interior design business. Cannell suffered from extreme dyslexia, which went undiagnosed and caused him to underperform in school. He reportedly failed three grades and could not retain a football scholarship to the University of Oregon because of his poor academic record.

But a professor at the university recognized his writing talent and encouraged him. Back in Los Angeles, Cannell pursued television writing and discovered that he was a natural.

In recent years, after three decades as an independent producer, Cannell devoted himself to writing books, and to date published 16.

As an actor, he had a recurring role on the ABC series Castle.

Cannell was nominated for five Primetime Emmys Awards and won one, in 1978, for The Rockford Files, when it was named Outstanding Drama Series.

Cannell’s family has requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the American Cancer Society or the International Dyslexia Association.

On June 23, 2004, Cannell had the distinction of being interviewed by the Television Academy Foundation’s Archive of American Television. During the three-and-a-half hour interview, conducted in Pasadena, California, by Stephen J. Abramson, Cannell talked about the challenges of battling dyslexia and using his innate storytelling ability to break into the television business. He described his work with Jack Webb on the series Adam-12, for which he served as head writer/story editor. He discussed his continued work in series television as a creator/producer, on such series as Toma, Baretta, Baa Baa Black Sheep and one of the biggest hits of the 1970s, The Rockford Files. Regarding Rockford, he talked about creating the series, selling it to the network and working with series star James Garner. He spoke in great detail about his hit series of the 1980s and 90s, which included The Greatest American Hero, The A-Team, 21 Jump Street, Wiseguy and The Commish. Throughout the interview, Cannell spoke about his approach to storytelling and characterization, as well as the processes involved in producing a series for television.

Browser Requirements
The TelevisionAcademy.com sites look and perform best when using a modern browser.

We suggest you use the latest version of any of these browsers:


Visiting the site with Internet Explorer or other browsers may not provide the best viewing experience.

Close Window