The Man Who Shot H.M. Murdock


 

Whenever something unfortunate happens in my business dealings I never sit there and observe it as a problem… The first thing I do when something goes wrong is say: ‘hey, I can use this!…'” Stephen J. Cannell

May he rest in peace.

(Disclaimer: No, he did  not in fact shoot H.M. Murdock. I’m not sure that he ever shot anyone at all, other than maybe in one of his novels. The title just sounded good.)

Do you know the man in this photo?

If you grew up during the 1970s or 1980s, and had a TV in your house, chances are you do. He’s (the sadly late) Stephen J. Cannell, creator/producer of some of the greatest, most iconic shows of that or any other era: The A-Team, The Rockford Files, 21 Jump Street, The Commish, Hunter, Wiseguy, Silk Stalkings. Even if you don’t remember the shows themselves, perhaps you remember the catchy tag scene and jingle at the end with Mr. Cannell at a typewriter, tossing a sheet of paper into the air which then formed the letter “C.”

I’ll confess, I love The A-Team more than any of his other works. It has literally made a difference in my life, both in how I see myself and the world. I can’t explain why this is, only that it is. By extension, Mr. Cannell, through his characters, has made a difference for me. I’m literally in awe of that.

Before I watched The A-Team, I was shy, self-conscious, nervous, and paranoid. I’m still mostly shy, fairly self-conscious, a little nervous, and selectively paranoid. Mr Cannell’s quirky, never-say-die characters have shown me that it’s OK to go out on a limb once in a while, to be different, to thrive on “the jazz.” They’ve also helped me to reach out to people I never would have met, people from all walks of life from all over the world.

God only knows how many other lives Mr. Cannell touched for the better, whether through his many Emmy Award-winning television series, or else his equally well-written hardboiled novels with a wide stripe of humor, or maybe even his recent acting appearances in the series Castle. That’s the power of a great writer: the power of connection, and the power of universality. Stephen J. Cannell had that rare gift. And his works will live on through discussion groups, reruns, message boards, fan fiction…the choices are endless.

I’ll come out and say it: Stephen J. Cannell created, and wrote for, possibly my favorite fictional character (Capt. H.M. Murdock of The A-Team). I’ve written stories about him, gone to meet the actor who portrayed him, even had a replica of his signature wardrobe item made. I don’t think this is craziness…more like a healthy admiration. (Those who know me well understand this uniquely Aspergian part of my personality.)

OK, enough about me and my silly life. Back on topic here.

There’s another thing about this talented man that many did not now, up until his death. Throughout his life he struggled with dyslexia. Having a learning disability/difference myself, this is the ultimate inspiration. If someone like him can not only conquer his disability, but thrive with it, why not me? I know at least 20 fellow writers who have been directly influenced by Mr. Cannell’s series or characters. That’s 20 people who may never have written otherwise.

So many “celebrity” deaths are easily forgotten, or else horribly tragic. The news of Stephen Cannell’s passing at the age of 69 saddened me, and many others. But I think it’s safe to say he will not be forgotten, and that his legacy will live on. Rest in peace, sir. You will be missed.

“He graced our lives like…an avocado salad.” ~H.M. Murdock, The A-Team, “The Big Squeeze” (written by Stephen J. Cannell)

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on October 2, 2010.

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