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Thanks for the memories: RIP William Link

Forever friends: William Link with Peter Falk

A torrid year rounded out on a further low note for Columbo fans with the news that character co-creator William Link passed away on December 27 at the age of 87.

In partnership with his erstwhile buddy and writing partner Dick Levinson, Link was one of the goliaths of TV production and development from the 1960s to the 90s, being responsible for the development of iconic shows such as Murder, She Wrote, Mannix and Ellery Queen. It was, however, the creation of Lieutenant Columbo that has done more than anything to immortalise him to generations of viewers.

Columbo (played by Burt Freed) first appeared in the Levinson and Link-penned mystery Enough Rope, which aired as a one-hour live broadcast on The Chevy Mystery Show on July 31, 1960. An expanded version of the mystery would go on to become a hit theatrical production in 1962, this time entitled Prescription: Murder and featuring Thomas Mitchell as the meandering Lieutenant.

It wasn’t until the third time of asking, though, that Columbo was truly embraced by the viewing populace, with the TV movie version of Prescription: Murder (introducing Peter Falk to the role) airing in 1968 – becoming one of the top 10 most-viewed TV movies of all time in the process. Three years later, an official series pilot, Ransom for a Dead Man, was sufficiently impressive for a full series to be commissioned. The rest is history.

William Link (left) at his induction into the TV Academy Hall of Fame in 1995

After overseeing the production of Columbo’s first fraught season, Link and Levinson relinquished their day-to-day duties on the series, becoming prolific writers and developers behind a slew of hit series and TV movies. The pair would be recognised for their excellence through Emmy Awards in 1970 for My Sweet Charlie and, two years later, for their Columbo episode Death Lends a Hand. Link, meanwhile, was inducted into the TV Academy Hall of Fame in 1995.

Link and Levinson’s long-time friendship and professional partnership, which commenced as teens in Philadelphia in the 1940s, was torn asunder in 1987 following the untimely death of Levinson from a heart attack at the age of 52, although the tragedy was the impetus for Link to revive their best-loved creation as Columbo was rekindled and returned to screens in 1989, with Link in the role of Executive Producer, and later Supervising Executive Producer, for the first two seasons of the Lieutenant’s comeback.

He never lost his love for the good Lieutenant, publishing a collection of short stories entitled The Columbo Collection in 2010 (now out of print). Ambitions for a follow-up book sadly never materialised.

Among the luminaries paying tribute to Link on his passing was Steven Spielberg the “boy genius” on the Universal lot who was entrusted with directorial duties on Murder by the Book, which would be selected as the opening episode of Columbo’s first season. It opened doors that the then-24-year-old swarmed through to establish himself as one of the leading filmmakers of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Steven Spielberg was full of admiration for William Link

“Bill’s truly good nature always inspired me to do good work for a man who, along with Dick Levinson, was a huge part of what became my own personal film school on the Universal lot,” Spielberg said in a statement. “Bill was one of my favorite and most patient teachers and, more than anything, I learned so much from him about the true anatomy of a plot.

“I caught a huge break when Bill and Dick trusted a young, inexperienced director to do the first episode of Columbo. That job helped convince the studio to let me do Duel, and with all that followed I owe Bill so very, very much.”

Although Link will forever be associated with Columbo, his final years featured an ugly legal battle with NBCUniversal over 40 years’ of unpaid profits from the successful series. A jury initially awarded Link and the heirs of Levinson more than $70m in 2019, but the decision was swiftly overturned and a new trial has yet to take place.

Born in 1933, Link had only turned 87 on December 15. His death was caused by congestive heart failure, and Link died in Los Angeles on December 27. He is survived by his wife of over 40 years, Margery Nelson, and several nieces, nephews and grandchildren. 

Jessica Fletcher was another of Link’s iconic TV creations

Link’s passing marks the final farewell for the three most pivotal forces in the creation and enduring success of Columbo following the deaths of Dick Levinson in 1987 and Peter Falk in 2011. We can only hope that wherever they are now, the three of them are able to revel in each other’s company once again.

I’m sure I speak for all Columbo fans when I pass on my sincere best wishes to Mr Link’s family and friends, and offer a humble thanks to the man himself for how much enjoyment his creations have brought to so many millions over so many years. He leaves a quite magnificent legacy.

In memory of William Link, 1933 – 2020
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23 thoughts on “Thanks for the memories: RIP William Link

  1. This article was a wonderful tribute to one of my heroes from the entertainment world. Shortly after I first saw “Prescription: Murder” as a child on TV in the 1960s, Bill Link and Dick Levinson came to be especially revered in my new local home town of Elkins Park, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia. You can imagine my delight as a child to learn that the two creators of my favorite TV show went to Cheltenham High School, just adjacent to my family’s home, which I would later attend (although the building/campus by then became Ogontz Junior High School, since Cheltenham High was moved to a new and larger facility).

  2. Pingback: Thanks for the memories: RIP William Link – Lt. Columbo

  3. Just read about and it let me back to this site which I haven’t been on in a while. Nice tribute, sad loss, but the legacy lives on. At least he got more time than Levinson.

  4. Pingback: In memoriam: the Columbo stars we lost in 2020 | THE COLUMBOPHILE

  5. Chayefsky, Serling, Levinson, and Link are my personal Mount Rushmore of TV writing. Bill Link was the last survivor. It’s the end of an era. RIP.

  6. Thank you for creating the best detective ever, lieutenant columbo. Just one more thing….. RIP William link x

  7. You do indeed speak for all Columbo fans with this lovely tribute to someone who changed our lives, and for the better.
    The death of William Link marks the end of an era, now that all three main creators of Columbo, Levinson, Falk and Link, have past away. There are not many who left the living such a legacy, to be enjoyed to the end of our days. Tomorrow night when the clock strikes twelve I will toast to a better new year than this one (Columbophile, I hope with all my heart you will be able to be home then) and also to the memory of William Link, may he rest in peace.
    And I’ll probably start 2021 by watching Any Old Port in a Storm.

  8. And let’s not forget the great private investigator Joe Mannix. Colombo and “Murder” are always thought of as the best creations of Link/Levinson, but “Mannix” is very much in their class. Mannix set a standard for p.i. shows to meet that few lives up to. Mannix had great acting and casting, the storytelling was superb, the highest of production values and of course… the violence! When set next to Jessica and the Lt., Mannix seems out of place, but he is equally memorable and another wonderful piece of entertainment we have Levinson/Link to thank. Bill Link was a great writer and by all accounts, an even better man. He will be missed.

  9. Yes, it’s always sad news when such people who took time to deliver us such pleasure, pass on

    RIP, our friend

  10. Very sad news but a beautiful tribute to the great man. Thank you.

    I often like to return to the interviews he did for the TV Academy – which is btw an amazing online resource of some fabulous stories from a whole range of greats – and could listen to him talk Columbo for hours.

    In fact I think I may very well do that again today while remembering what we have lost…

    RIP Mr Link!

  11. A good and fitting tribute to a great man, columbophile.

    Thanks for the memories indeed, Mr Link, and for co-creating my favourite TV series and TV character bar none. In fact I was watching a Columbo episode just last night (‘A Matter of Honor’). Mr Link co-wrote my personal favourite Columbo episode ‘Death Lends a Hand’ (1971) with the late Dick Levinson. Thanks for all the years of escapism, happiness and sheer enjoyment that have come from watching Columbo, Mr Link.

    In Memory of William Link

    (15 December 1933 – 27 December 2020)

    • My wife and I always debate who the best detective was, and while she does love Columbo, he is my choice, hers is Poirot.

  12. An obviously hearfelt tribute which expresses the feelings of all who have spent, and continue to spend, many happy hours with our favourite TV detective. To create a character as immortal as the great Sherlock is a legacy to be proud of.

  13. Thanks for sharing your insights on Bill Link. A great man has left us. He and Richard created this amazing detective whose stories are still watched around the globe…I had the greatest honor of a phone conversation with Bill years ago. I had sent him a fan email and to my profound surprise and joy, he called me! We chatted for a half hour and it was wonderful. He was a down to earth gentleman. We will miss you, Bill. Thank you for Columbo…My condolences and kind wishes to Margery and Bill’s family.


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