LOS ANGELES — William Link, who co-created the hit series “Columbo” and “Murder, She Wrote” and made 1970s and ’80s TV movies about social issues then largely shunned by television, has died. He was 87.
Link died of congestive heart failure Sunday in Los Angeles, his wife of more than 40 years, Margery Nelson, said in a statement Tuesday.
The family helped Link mark his Dec. 15 birthday by playing YouTube videos of interviews in which he recounted his long career, said his niece, Amy Salko Robertson.
“He loved it. It was the best birthday present we could have given him,” she said.
“Columbo” was a highlight of Link's award-winning body of work. The series featured a brilliant, deceptively unkempt police detective that he and his longtime writing-producing partner, Richard Levinson, originally created for a 1960 TV anthology episode.
The pair earned a writing Emmy for the series, with four acting trophies going to star Peter Falk. He played the role in the 1971-78 “Columbo” run on NBC and when the crime drama moved to ABC from 1989 to 2003 as more occasional TV movies.
Link and Levinson, Philadelphia-area natives who met as mystery-loving teens and soon began collaborating on stories and radio scripts, aimed to produce more than entertainment, Salko Robertson said in an interview.
The fight “for justice and equality” was a central theme in their projects, she said — including “Columbo,” which tended to pit the wily detective against wealthy and powerful criminals.
The collaborators' TV movies included 1970's “My Sweet Charlie,” a rare small-screen depiction of an interracial romance that earned them a writing Emmy, and “That Certain Summer” (1972), a groundbreaker for its sympathetic portrayal of gay characters.
Dramas such as those “were not getting on TV, and they really fought for them,” said Salko Robertson, a producer who handled business matters for her uncle.
Link, an Army veteran, and Levinson wrote and were executive producers for the Emmy-winning “The Execution of Private Slovik” (1974), about a WWII soldier who became the first executed for desertion since the Civil War.
“Murder, She Wrote,” with film and stage star Angela Lansbury as an amateur sleuth, was created by Link, Levinson and Peter S. Fischer. The series was a durable, 12-season success for CBS, airing from 1984 to 1996.
Link and Levinson’s other series included the 1967-75 crime drama “Mannix” and 1973-74’s “Tenafly,” an early show with an African American lead character, a private eye played by James McEachin.
The pair wrote screenplays for the ’70s big-screen films “The Hindenburg,” “Rollercoaster” and for 1980’s “The Hunter,” among actor Steve McQueen’s final movies.
After Levinson's death in 1987, Link continued to write, including stories for Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.
Besides his wife and Salko Robertson, Link's survivors include nieces and nephews John Robertson, Karen Salko Nieberg and Owen Nieberg.
Lynn Elber, The Associated Press