Brian's Song is a 1971 ABC Movie of the Week that recounts the details of the life of Brian Piccolo (played by James Caan), a football player stricken with terminal cancer, and his friendship with Chicago Bears running back teammate and Pro Football Hall of Famer Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams), who helps him through the difficult struggle. The production was such a success on ABC television (November 30, 1971) that it was later shown in theaters, with a major premiere in Chicago; however, it was soon withdrawn due to a lack of business. Some critics have called the movie among the finest telefilms ever made.
The movie is based on Sayers' account of his friendship with Piccolo and coping with Piccolo's illness in Sayers' autobiography, I Am Third. The film was written by veteran screenwriter William Blinn, whose script, one Dallas television critic called, "highly restrained, steering clear of any overt sentimentality [yet conveying] the genuine affection the two men felt so deeply for each other." The movie although based on a true story, presented some fictional scenes. One example was when George Halas (played by Jack Warden) told Gale Sayers that he wanted to bench Brian Piccolo when he suspected that there may be a problem affecting his performance. He later learned of Brian's cancer. In reality Jim Dooley was the head coach at that time. George Halas retired as head coach following the 1968 season.
* James Caan as Brian Piccolo
* Billy Dee Williams as Gale Sayers
* Jack Warden as Coach George Halas
* Shelley Fabares as Joy Piccolo
* Judy Pace as Linda Sayers
* Bernie Casey as J.C. Caroline
* David Huddleston as Ed McCaskey
* Ron Feinberg as Doug Atkins
* Jack Concannon as Himself
* Abe Gibron as Himself
* Ed O'Bradovich as Himself
* Dick Butkus as Himself
* Chicago Bears as Themselves
The musical theme to Brian's Song, "The Hands of Time," was a popular tune during the early 1970s and has become a standard. The music for the film was by Michel Legrand, with lyrics to the song by Marilyn and Alan Bergman. Nashville pianist Floyd Cramer performed a popular version of "The Hands of Time".
Awards and nominations
The film won an Emmy Award for Best Dramatic Program (1971–72). William Blinn won an Emmy for his teleplay, and Jack Warden won for his performance as Coach Halas. Caan and Williams were also nominated.
Thirty years after its original airing, a remake was aired in 2001 on ABC's The Wonderful World of Disney starring Mekhi Phifer as Sayers and Sean Maher as Piccolo.
Directed by Buzz Kulik
Produced by Paul Junger Witt
Written by Gale Sayers, Al Silverman (original book); William Blinn (teleplay)
Billy Dee Williams
Music by Michel Legrand
Cinematography Joseph F. Biroc
Editing by Bud S. Isaacs
Distributed by Screen Gems / Columbia Pictures (producers)
ABC (original broadcaster)
Release date(s) November 30, 1971
Running time 105 min.