‘Roots’ Producer David Wolper Dies at 82

Also produced “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and “The Thorn Birds.”

Producer David Wolper died of congestive heart failure and complications from Parkinson's Disease on Tuesday night. Wolper produced "Roots" and "The Thorn Birds," the two highest rated mini-series of all time.

Wolper's spokesman, Dale Olson, told the Associated Press that the producer died in his Beverly Hills home.

Wolper is best known for producing the Emmy award winning, rating smash "Roots." Adopted from Alex Haley's prize winning book, the ABC mini-series traced the author's family history back to Africa when his ancestors were captured into slavery. It was seen by more than 130 million people when it aired in 1977, or roughly half of the country.

Like Neil Armstrong's walk across the surface of the moon or the Kennedy assassination, both of which similarly captured the nation's attention, the eight episode mini-series is seen as one of the seminal events in television history.

"Roots" received 36 Emmy Award nominations, winning nine; it also won a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award. It  served as a showcase for several prominent African American actors, including LeVar Burton and Louis Gossett Jr.

"Roots" was a tough act to follow, but  in producing "The Thorn Birds," a mini-series based on Colleen McCullough's novel, he nearly matched that television movie's success. Set in the Australian outback and starring Richard Chamberlain as a love struck priest, that mini-series became another ratings smash for ABC when it aired in 1983.

Wolper also produced the highly rated "North and South" for ABC in 1985 and 1986. Set in the Civil War, the program was the seventh highest rated mini-series ever and introduced the world to Patrick Swayze.

Though his work on the small screen brought Wolper his greatest success and acclaim, he also made an imprint on the film world. He produced the 1971 children's classic "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," which boasted an iconic performance from Gene Wilder as the titular candy maker. He also produced the 1997 Oscar-winning crime film "L.A. Confidential."

Wolper directed the 1959 documentary "The Race for Space," which was nominated for an Academy Award.

Outside of his work on film and TV, Wolper was well known for designing and overseeing the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.