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John Sacret Young, the acclaimed writer and producer who co-created the Vietnam War medical drama China Beach, has died. He was 75.
Young, who earned seven Emmy nominations and won two Writers Guild Awards and two Humanitas Prizes, died Thursday in Los Angeles after a 10-month battle with brain cancer, CAA announced.
Young was also known for mentoring young writers and other crewmembers on his shows; the China Beach writers room included a host of future Emmy winners and nominees, among them John Wells, Carol Flint, Lydia Woodward, Paris Qualles and Ann Donahue.
“John was my mentor and my friend. He was an exceptionally gifted writer who was generous with his time, thoughtful, wickedly funny, patient and tough,” said Wells in a statement. “He cared deeply about writing, about words and craft. He set the bar high and expected you to clear it. He took a chance on a young and inexperienced writer and I will be forever grateful for his giving me that chance.”
Marg Helgenberger, who also starred in China Beach, wrote on Twitter that “My heart is broken over the death of my dear friend John Sacret Young. A writer of deep emotional resonance & a true collaborator. My thoughts are with his family.”
Born on May 24, 1946, Young grew up in Montclair, New Jersey, as the youngest of four siblings. He attended Princeton University, where he played freshman football, hockey and lacrosse and as his senior thesis wrote his first novel, about two women working on the 1968 presidential campaign.
His first screen credit was as writer of the 1971 private eye movie Chandler, starring Warren Oates. He broke into television as a researcher on the 1970s NBC drama Police Story, embedded with the LAPD. He would go on to write three episodes of the show during the 1976-77 season, when the series — co-created by Joseph Wambaugh — earned one of its two nominations for best drama.
Young won his first WGA Award for the 1980 CBS miniseries A Rumor of War, about a Marine lieutenant (Brad Davis) who becomes disillusioned with the war in Vietnam.
He would revisit Vietnam in co-creating ABC’s China Beach with William Broyles Jr. Telling the story of the war through the eyes of an Army nurse (Dana Delany) and her colleagues at an evacuation hospital, the series earned best drama nominations for three of its four seasons. Young received an Emmy nomination for writing the pilot and won a WGA Award in 1990 for the episode “Souvenirs,” which he also directed.
He also penned the screenplays for the Oscar-nominated nuclear war drama Testament (1983) and Romero (1989), which starred Raul Julia as a crusading Salvadoran archbishop.
Young also penned an acclaimed memoir about his cousin’s death in Vietnam, Remains: Non-Viewable, about which Elmore Leonard wrote, “Young writes so well, his memoir works as a novel.” His 1982 novel The Weather Tomorrow and 2016 memoir Pieces of Glass — An Artoir also received critical praise. His final book, Pieces of Tinsel, about his time in Hollywood, is set to be published in 2022.
Later in his TV career, Young earned two Emmy noms as part of the producing team on Wells’ The West Wing, and he served as a writer and producer on a wide range of series and TV movies, including Keys, VR.5, Thanks of a Grateful Nation (for which he won a Humanitas prize) and Level 9. His most recent work was as a writer and co-executive producer of Netflix’s Firefly Lane.
Young was a visiting professor at Princeton and Claremont McKenna College and lectured at USC, UC Santa Barbara and the Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton presidential libraries. He served on the boards of the Firestone Library at Princeton, the Humanitas Prize, the Burchfield Penney Art Center and the Writers Guild Foundation.
Young is survived by his wife, Claudia Sloan; brother Mason and his wife, Beth Gragg; four children; and three grandchildren.
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