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Stephen J. Cannell

Stephen J. Cannell- 1941 to 2010:  Posted August 9, 2015

 This wonderful writer was taken from us way too early.  Back in the day when Borders Bookstores were king, they featured monthly authors at their bookstores to give a FREE short lecture about their careers. Well, not exactly “free” since most of us wound up buying their current bestsellers and afterwards hung around to meet the authors and get our books signed.    Those “author evenings” proved to be some of my best memories.

Borders had many authors speak over the years, but the mystery genre dominated the lectures in Northern Virginia.  I thoroughly enjoyed every one of them from Diane Mott Davidson, to the drop dead handsome Robert Crais, to prestigious British author P.D. James and many others in between.

I was sad to see Border’s and so many other bookstores fall by the wayside.  The new e-books are great, and tablets make it easy to take a book with you anywhere, but give me a hardbound book any day  – that just feels “right!”

It was at a Border’s bookstore lecture that I was mesmerized by the late Stephen Cannell.  At that time he was in his 60’s and one of the most charismatic, electrifying and fascinating men I’ve ever met.   I could have just listened to him speaking for days on end…heck, for that matter, I probably could have married him!  He was just that incredible!

His own story of how he became a writer was inspirational and has stuck with me through all these years.  When he was a very young man he wanted to be a writer.  His insurance selling dad often played golf with a prominent NY publisher.   Stephen begged his dad to get his manuscript to this high profile publisher with more High Hopes than Frank Sinatra.   He was thrilled to death when the publisher told young Stephen that he read his manuscript and wanted to meet with him in his office.  Young Stephen was on Cloud 9 when he showed up for his meeting.  But then his bubble burst.  This guy told Stephen that the world of writers was so competitive he didn’t stand any chance of EVER becoming a successful writer and recommended that Stephen follow in his father’s insurance business footsteps.

Not accepting defeat, Stephen hired a female agent that had a way of getting publishers to read her clients’ manuscripts: she dangled a bag of her home-made drop dead cookies in front of them.  The deal was – “you read my client’s manuscript, you get these cookies!”   This seemed to work not just for Stephen, but for other authors too (would have loved to know her recipe)!   Next thing he knew, he finally got a break.

Cannell has so many books and TV shows under his belt that it’s staggering. He was the writer for 21 Jump Street – launching Johnny Depp’s career.  Some of his TV hit shows included:  The Rockford Files, Baretta, Baa BaaBlack Sheep, Hunter, Riptide, Hardcastle and McCormick, Wiseguy, The Commish, Renegade, Silk Stalkings and The A-Team.  My personal favorite was Diagnosis Murder.  At the end of this show and some of his others, you’ll see Cannell sitting up straight, avidly typing at a typewriter – then with one swift movement, pulls the paper out of the typewriter and sends it floating in the air where it lands to create his company’s logo (Stephen J. Cannell Productions).

He even appeared in one of my favorite (cheesy) SyFy movies, Ice Spiders, and could be seen from time-to-time in cameo appearances on many TV shows including Diagnosis Murder. 

Even into his 60’s, Cannell was trim, fit and ruggedly handsome.  He could still pull off a stylishly “hip” black leather jacket.  He struck me as the essence of “Mr. Hollywood” and an all-around good guy.

How Cannell found time to be involved in so many TV shows, movies and also be an author, is way beyond my mental comprehension.   He was also an avid spokesperson for dyslexia and for children and adults with learning disabilities. There will never be anyone else like him ever again. His last book Vigilante is one of my favorites.  If you like mystery/crime drama, be sure to check out some of his books.

We miss you Stephen.  Your imagination, wit and inspiration still lives on in your books, TV shows and movies.