As reported by NOLA.com, television writer David Mills—a college friend and later frequent collaborator with David Simon on Homicide: Life On The Streets, The Corner, and The Wire—has died of a brain aneurysm. His death comes just 11 days before the première of Treme, where he had once again been a key member of Simon’s writing staff.
Like Simon, Mills got his start as a reporter, contributing stories to The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Washington Times. It was for the Times that Mills conducted one of his most famous interviews: a talk with Public Enemy’s Professor Griff, during which Griff made several anti-Semitic remarks. (Robert Christgau has an interesting take on that interview, tellingly titled, “The Shit Storm.”) Mills found himself at the center of controversy again when, while interviewing hip-hop artist and activist Sister Souljah, she opined of the L.A. riots, “If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?” The quote was later used by Bill Clinton against Jesse Jackson, who had invited Sister Souljah to speak at a Rainbow Coalition convention, an incident that later took on its own meaning as the (now slightly antiquated) term, "Sister Souljah moment."
Mills first tried his hand at screenwriting with an episode of Homicide, written for his old friend Simon. The episode (starring Robin Williams) was named “Bop Gun” in reference to a Parliament Funkadelic song; Mills was a diehard funk fan, having published the independent fanzine Uncut Funk (focusing exclusively on the music of George Clinton) in his early days, and throughout his career he would drop these sorts of P-Funk references in his scripts—even naming his production company Knee Deep after the 1979 song, “(Not Just) Knee Deep.” Once he began working for Homicide, Mills focused exclusively on television writing, later getting a job at NYPD Blue after he wrote a letter to showrunner David Milch in which he criticized a statement Milch had made about black writers having difficulty writing for a mass audience. Mills would later claim that Milch became his writing mentor.
After writing for NYPD Blue and contributing to a few episodes of ER, Mills reconnected with Simon for the Emmy-winning miniseries The Corner as its co-writer and co-producer. Mills and Simon split the duties (and the awards) down the middle. His next undertaking was the short-lived NBC series Kingpin, sort of a network answer to The Sopranos about a Mexican drug cartel. Poor ratings canceled the show before it could produce a full season, and Mills returned to Simon in 2006 to write for The Wire’s fourth and fifth season—most notably the episode, “Soft Eyes.”
He and Simon continued their partnership on the upcoming Treme, where Mills’ input as a funk and soul enthusiast reportedly played into the series’ focus on New Orleans musicians. Its first season will now be Mills’ swan song.