DALLAS – Charlie Wilson, the former congressman from Texas whose funding of Afghanistan's resistance to the Soviet Union was chronicled in the movie "Charlie Wilson's War," died Wednesday. He was 76.
Wilson died at Memorial Medical Center-Lufkin after he started having difficulty breathing while attending a meeting in the eastern Texas town where he lived, said hospital spokeswoman Yana Ogletree. Wilson was pronounced dead on arrival, and the preliminary cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest, she said.
Wilson represented the 2nd district in east Texas in the U.S. House from 1973 to 1996 and was known in Washington as "Good Time Charlie" for his reputation as a hard-drinking womanizer.
Actor Tom Hanks portrayed Wilson in the 2007 movie about Wilson's efforts to arm Afghani mujahedeen during Afghanistan's war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Wilson, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, helped secure money for weapons.
In 2007, Wilson had a heart transplant at a Houston hospital. Doctors had told Wilson, who suffered from cardiomyopathy, a disease that causes an enlarged and weakened heart, that he would likely die without a transplant.
"Charlie was perfect as a congressman, perfect as a state representative, perfect as a state senator. He was a perfect reflection of the people he represented. If there was anything wrong with Charlie, I never did know what it was," said Charles Schnabel Jr., who served for seven years as Wilson's chief of staff in Washington and worked with Wilson when he served in the Texas Senate.
Schnabel said he had just been with Wilson a few weeks ago for the dedication of the Charlie Wilson chair for Pakistan studies at the University of Texas, Austin, a $1 million endowment. He said Wilson had been doing "very good."
"He had the heart transplant in September 2007 and he recovered and he said quote, 'he was a poster boy for heart transplants.' He was doing very well. He was taken a whole lot of medicine," Schnabel said.
Ogletree said Wilson is survived by his wife and a sister.
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