As always, the further we go back in Hollywood history,
the more that fact and legend become intertwined.
It's hard to say where the truth really lies.
February 10, 1992
Alex Haley, author of Roots (1976), dies of a heart attack at age 70 in Seattle.
Roots, which portrayed four generations of an African American family based on Haley's own family, became a TV miniseries in 1977. The eight-part series was aired on consecutive nights and became the most watched show in TV history. Some 130 million people-nearly half the country's population at the time--watched the last episode of the show. Haley's books led to an increased interest in the study of black history and heritage.
Born in Ithaca, New York, Haley grew up in Henning, Tennessee, where he listened to family stories told by his maternal grandmother. A mediocre student at Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College and at Elizabeth City Teachers College, Haley later spent two decades with the U.S. Coast Guard as a journalist, writing adventure stories to take the edge off his boredom. When he retired, he moved back to New York to pursue a writing career. He interviewed trumpeter Miles Davis and political activist Malcolm X for Playboy in the 1960s and later collaborated with the Black Muslim spokesman to write The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), an acclaimed work that fueled the black-power movement in America and was cited extensively in institutions of higher learning.
Haley then started his best-known work, Roots: The Saga of an American Family, published in 1976. The blend of fact and fiction, drawn largely from stories recited by Haley's grandmother, chronicles seven generations of Haley's family history, from the enslavement of his ancestors to his own quest to trace his family tree. To write the mostly nonfiction work, Haley pored over records in the National Archives and went by safari to the African village of Juffure to meet with an oral historian (Haley later donated money to that village for a new mosque). In the early 1970s, he and his brothers founded the Kinte Foundation, named for Haley's ancestor Kunta Kinte, to collect and preserve African American genealogy records.
Haley received special citations from the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award committees in 1977 for Roots, which sold more than a million copies in one year. It was translated into 26 languages. Later in his life, Haley wrote a biography of Frank Wills, the security guard who discovered the break-in at the Watergate Hotel that brought down Richard Nixon's presidency.
February 12, 2002
The six stars on NBC's Friends signed a deal for $24 million each for the ninth and final season of the series.