Al Silverman Wrote Book That Became ‘brian’s ’;
Al Silverman, a magazine editor and publishing executive who collaborated with Chicago Bears halfback Gale Sayers on an autobiography that was adapted into “Brian’s Song,” the popular 1971 television movie about the friendship between Sayers and his dying teammate, Brian Piccolo, died Sunday at his home in Manhattan. He was 92.
His son Brian confirmed the death.
In 1969, when he began his conversations with Sayers, Silverman was well-known in sports publishing. He had been a prolific freelance writer in the 1950s for various magazines, including Sport, a popular monthly, which hired him as its editor-in-chief in 1960, and where he was still working. He had also written books about, or with, sports figures like Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Frank Robinson.
In Sayers, who was 26, Silverman had a sensational young player as a subject: In his first three seasons, beginning in 1965, his speed and elusiveness had made him a superstar. But an injury to his right knee during a game in 1968 imperiled his career; he was still recovering when he began to tell his life story to Silverman, who wrote about his regimen of physical rehabilitation for Sport.
Their book, “I Am Third” (1970), contained one chapter called “Pick,” about his friendship with Piccolo, who died of lung cancer in 1970. (The book’s title refers to a sign Sayers had seen on his college track coach’s desk: “The Lord is first, my friends are second, and I am third.”)
“As much as they cut into this man, as much as he was inflicted with terrible pain and discomfort, as much as he was faced with all these tortures, his spirit would not be destroyed,” Sayers and Silverman wrote. “That was the beautiful nature of Brian Piccolo.”
The story told in that chapter became the basis for “Brian’s Song,” a tear-jerker that starred Billy Dee Williams as Sayers and James Caan as Piccolo and became one of the most-watched TV movies of all time. It won the 1972 Emmy Award for outstanding single program. It was remade for television in 2001 with Mekhi Phifer and Sean Maher.
Silverman left the sports world in 1972, when he joined the Book-of-the-Month Club mail-order concern as executive vice president and editorial director. While there, Silverman understood that smart marketing was as important as selecting the right books for its broad swath of readers.
In addition to his son Brian, Silverman is survived by his wife, Rosa; two other sons, Thomas and Matthew; and seven grandchildren.