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RIP Charlie Wilson

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  • RIP Charlie Wilson

    Charlie Wilson, the Texan Democrat who championed covert CIA support for Afghan Mujahidin in the 1980s and whose life was chronicled in a Hollywood film, has died. He was 76.

    The controversial former congressman, known as “Good-time Charlie” for his hard-partying ways, died of a heart attack in a Texas hospital late yesterday.

    He was taken to hospital after suffering breathing problems following a meeting in Lufkin, the eastern Texas town where he lived, according to a hospital spokeswoman. He was pronounced dead on arrival, and the preliminary cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest.

    Mr Wilson served 12 consecutive terms in the House of Representatives, and was often referred to as the "Liberal from Lufkin".

    He sat on a key House subcommittee and helped to secure huge increases in funding for CIA efforts to help Afghan Mujahidin fighting Soviet occupation forces after the 1979 invasion.

    The movie Charlie Wilson’s War, which chronicled his efforts, starred Tom Hanks as Mr Wilson and Julia Roberts as the Houston socialite Joanne Herring who helped him to win support for the secret war.

    Hanks portrayed Mr Wilson – who was known for hiring attractive young women to staff his congressional office in Washington – as a boozy womaniser who found his life's cause in helping the anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

    On a less flattering side, the movie opens with Mr Wilson in a hot tub in a Las Vegas hotel, flanked by two strippers who are high on cocaine. In 1980 the US Justice Department investigated Mr Wilson for possible drug use, but no charges were made.

    "The feds spent a million bucks trying to figure out whether, when those fingernails passed under my nose, did I inhale or exhale, and I ain't telling," Mr Wilson told the author George Crile, who included the material in his book, Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History, on which the film was based.

    Mr Wilson said that the film played down his unlikely career. “I had the most fun of my life making that movie and, believe me, I have had a lot of fun in my life," he said.

    As a long-time member of the House Appropriations Committee, Mr Wilson quietly helped to steer billions of dollars to the CIA, which distributed the funds to buy Afghan fighters high-tech weapons such as Stinger missiles, which were used to shoot down Soviet helicopter gunships.

    "I just saw the opportunity to grab the sons o'bitches by the throat," the fiercely anti-communist Mr Wilson told the Dallas Morning News in a 2007 interview.

    Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, said that when he was director of the CIA he knew Mr Wilson, who “was working tirelessly on behalf of the Afghan resistance fighting the Soviets”.

    Mr Gates said in a statement released overnight: “As the world now knows, his efforts and exploits helped repel an invader, liberate a people, and bring the Cold War to a close.

    "After the Soviets left, Charlie kept fighting for the Afghan people and warned against abandoning that traumatised country to its fate — a warning we should have heeded then, and should remember today.”

    After the Soviet withdrawal, Mr Wilson expressed reservations about the American decisions to cut funds to Afghanistan, which he blamed for creating a void that led to the rising influence of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the Islamic militant group accused of the attacks on the US of September 11, 2001.

    Mr Wilson was born in Trinity, Texas, in 1933, attended the US Naval Academy, and served in the US Navy. He was elected to the Texas legislature and went on to serve in the US House from 1973. He retired from Congress in 1997.

    In 2007, he underwent a heart transplant.

    He is survived by his wife Barbara and sister Sharon Allison.

    Representative David Obey, the Democratic chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, described Mr Wilson as "a man of courage and conviction who worked hard, loved his country, and lived life to the fullest".
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    Re: RIP Charlie Wilson

    If the man is truly similar to the character, he was a rare breed.....RIP Charlie
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