'Rollerball' Writer William Harrison Dies at 79

He adapted his own Esquire short story for the screenplay of the violent 1975 sci-fi film that was directed by Norman Jewison and starred James Caan.

William Harrison, who adapted his own short story for the 1975 dystopian science-fiction film Rollerball, died Oct. 22 of renal failure at his home in Fayetteville, Ark. He was a week shy of his 80th birthday.

Harrison penned “Roller Ball Murder” for Esquire magazine in September 1973, then wrote the screenplay for the action film that was directed by Norman Jewison and starred James Caan as the star of the ultraviolent, bloodthirsty sport in the year 2018.

Rollerball was a big international hit and the first major Hollywood production to identify stunt professionals in the credits. It was remade unsuccessfully in 2002 by Die Hard director John McTiernan.

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Harrison was inspired to write his “Roller Ball” story after seeing a fight break out on the court during a college basketball game.

With director Bob Rafelson, Harrison also adapted his 1982 novel Burton and Speke for the 1990 adventure film Mountains of the Moon, starring Patrick Bergin and Iain Glen as 19th-century explorers in search of the source of the Nile.

A native of Dallas, Harrison wrote nine novels and more than 50 short stories. In 1966, he founded and became co-director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Arkansas.

Survivors include his wife Merlee, children LaurieSean and Quentin and three grandchildren.