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Prolific writer, 'A-Team' creator dies

NEW YORK - Stephen J. Cannell, the voracious writer-producer of dozens of series that included TV favorites The Rockford Files, The A-Team, and The Commish, has died at age 69.

Cannell passed away at his home in Pasadena, Calif., on Thursday night from complications associated with melanoma, his family said in a statement Friday.

During three decades as an independent producer, he distinguished himself as a rangy, outgoing chap with a trim beard who was generally identified with action dramas full of squealing tires and tough guys trading punches.

But his range was greater than for which he was given credit. Tenspeed and Brown Shoe was a clever detective drama starring Ben Vereen and a then-unknown Jeff Goldblum in 1980. Profit was a shocking saga of a psycho businessman that was unforgettable to the few viewers who saw it: Fox pulled the plug after just four episodes in 1996. With Wiseguy (1987-90), Cannell chilled viewers with a film-noir descent into the underworld that predated The Sopranos by more than a decade.

The Rockford Files, of course, became an Emmy-winning TV classic following the misadventures of its hapless ex-con private eye played by James Garner.

"People say, 'How can the guy who did Wiseguy do The A-Team?' I don't know," said Cannell in a 1993 interview. "But I do know it's easier to think of me simply as the guy who wrote The A-Team. So they do."

During his TV heyday, Cannell became familiar to viewers from the ID that followed each of his shows: He was seen in his office typing on his Selectric typewriter before blithely ripping a sheet of paper from the typewriter carriage, whereupon it morphed into the C-shaped logo of Cannell Entertainment Inc.

That was all the idea of his wife, Marcia, he said, and it "appealed to my sense of hooey. … I'm a ham."

A third-generation Californian, Cannell (rhymes with "channel") got into television writing scripts for It Takes a Thief, Ironside, and Adam 12. It was a remarkable career choice for someone who had suffered since childhood from severe dyslexia. (He became an advocate for children and adults with learning disabilities.)

Cannell in recent years had focused his attention on writing books. His 16th novel, The Prostitute's Ball, will be released this month.

"I never thought of myself as being a brilliant writer, and still don't," he said. "I'm a populist. With Rockford, we were never trying to be important. And as thoroughly hated as it was by critics, I loved The A-Team. I thought it was really cool."

Born Feb. 5, 1941, Cannell is survived by Marcia, his wife of 46 years, their three children, and three grandchildren.

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