February 10th, 2010
03:26 PM ET
13 years ago

Rep. Charlie Wilson of Texas dead at 76

(CNN) - Former Democratic Rep. Charles Wilson of Texas died Wednesday at age 76, an East Texas hospital said.

The 12-term congressman, who served the state's second congressional district and inspired the 2007 movie "Charlie Wilson's War," had been in a meeting Wednesday morning with a friend when he complained of difficulty breathing, said Yana Ogletree, a spokeswoman for Memorial Medical Center in Lufkin.

The two men were en route to the hospital when they passed an Emergency Medical Services vehicle on the side of the road and stopped for help, she said. Paramedics took him to the hospital emergency room, where he was pronounced dead at 12:16 p.m., she said.

Wilson, who had undergone a heart transplant at Methodist Hospital in Houston in September 2007, moved back to his hometown of Lufkin when he retired in 1997 after having served since 1973, she said.

Tom Hanks portrayed the flamboyant congressman in the 2007 movie "Charlie Wilson's War," which told the story of Wilson's efforts to get weapons to mujahedeen fighters after Soviets invaded Afghanistan.

"Hanks did a great job," Wilson told CNN's Todd Leopold in 2008. Wilson also praised the other actors. "They were too close to the truth," he said.

The U.S. Naval Academy grad and Navy veteran was elected to Congress in 1972 - a Democrat bucking the national Nixon landslide - and quickly became known for his high-living escapades, which earned him the nickname "Good Time Charlie," and shrewd accumulation of political chits.

His savvy came in handy in the early '80s, when Wilson, a staunch anti-Communist, decided to help Afghan rebels in their war against the invading Soviet Union. Over several years, working behind the scenes, his efforts to raise funds through his defense subcommittee, to establish a bond with a CIA agent named Gust Avrakotos (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the film) and to negotiate support from Middle Eastern countries helped the Afghans take the upper hand - and eventually forced the Soviets out of the country.

Asked what led to the Soviet departure, Pakistani leader Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq was blunt: "Charlie did it," he told CBS News' 60 Minutes."

Wilson is survived by his wife, Barbara Alberstadt Wilson, a sister, a niece and a nephew.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. SocialismBad

    If he was anything like he was portrayed in the movie, then he was one real character! A real patriot that proved one man CAN make a difference. Too bad too many of today's politicans can't take the lead on issues and succeed like he did.

    February 10, 2010 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  2. Turnabout is Fair Play

    God Bless him and his family. May he rest in peace.

    February 10, 2010 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  3. Joe Mo

    Charlie's War, we should have let the Russians taken Afghanistan.

    Now it is our mess. Charlie was a stupid War Hawk from Bush home state of Texas.

    February 10, 2010 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  4. Albert R., L.A., CA

    Charlie was a true Texas hero, born in Texas, fought for Medicaid, the elderly, the Equal Rights Amendment, and minimum wage workers. Now he is surly with the real Charlie’s Angels.

    February 10, 2010 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  5. jeff jackson, alabama

    Speaking as a Republican, I think Wilson[ a Dem]
    had the right idea about doing core work
    in the infrastructure and schools in Afghanistan.
    He had no way of knowing we would be on
    the wrong end of the stick 30 years later.
    We may have had an impact on what is taught
    in their schools about the West had his ideas
    been acted upon. Of course now it is too late
    to repair feelings, as war has been declared
    on us, and now we have to play the cards we
    have been dealt. All old bets are off.

    February 10, 2010 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  6. MissouriDem

    I wonder if Ronald Reagan will take credit for his death.

    February 10, 2010 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  7. Jane/Seattle

    My condolences to this person's family.

    It is becoming transparently obvious that term limits would be in order for American government. Too many are in this way too long, like McCain, Kennedy, Murtha and all the rest of them. True, we'd take out the good with the bad, but 12 terms and more is way too much. This power and money connection with long-term incumbants encourages the types of abuse, cronyism, and corruption we are seeing increasingly on display in D.C. and everywhere else!

    February 10, 2010 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  8. EastTexas86

    Charles Wilson appointed me to the US Naval Academy twice: first as a Junior in 1985, and then as a Senior in 1986. My condolences to his family and my thanks for being one of the two men that started me in my career of service to our nation. Both he and Lloyd Bentsen now, sadly, have passed. May their legacy inspire those who are chosen to represent our state in their places.

    I hope Timber Charlie and my Uncle Archer have a chance to compare notes now.

    February 10, 2010 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  9. EC

    RIP Mr. Charlie, last name, WILSON....

    February 10, 2010 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  10. Speaking for Liberals

    Ya can't hate this guy. I think everybody should see Charlie Wilson's War (out on DVD) the man did everything he could to prevent the debacle of foreign relations in the Middle East that we have today. We should have listened to him. My sincere condolences to his family and loved ones, he was a patriot and a statesman

    February 10, 2010 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  11. Dar

    RIP Charlie

    February 10, 2010 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  12. Brian L

    and the GOP – Reagon wants to take credit for Wilsons work.... Just another way that they like to re-write history..... just like when they think Lincoln is a conservative..... because freeing the slaves was a conservative principle?

    February 10, 2010 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  13. JonDie

    Thanks, Mr. Wilson, for helping to found Al Qaeda and for your support of the Taliban.

    February 10, 2010 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  14. jR

    good movie.. the end highlighted so many military operations.. dont remember the exact numbers but "we can spend 80billion on weapons, but not 1million on a school".. and we wonder one of the reasons they dont like us over there

    February 10, 2010 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  15. that one guy

    One of the few democrats I liked, he was a great man. RIP Mr.Wilson

    February 10, 2010 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |