“Good Time Charlie” Wilson, 76, the fun-loving, controversial former congressman from Texas whose clandestine funding of Afghanistan’s resistance to the Soviet Union became famous in the movie and book “Charlie Wilson’s War,” died Wednesday.
Memorial Medical Center-Lufkin in Texas spokeswoman Yana Ogletree said Wilson started having difficulty breathing while attending a meeting in the eastern Texas town where he lived and was pronounced dead on arrival.
The preliminary cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest, she said.
Wilson, who represented the 2nd District in east Texas in the U.S. House from 1973 to 1996, was known in Washington as “Good Time Charlie” for his reputation as a hard-drinking womanizer with a staff of beautiful young women known as “Charlie’s Angels.” He called former congresswoman Pat Schroeder “Babycakes,” and tried — and failed — to take a beauty queen with him on a government trip to Afghanistan.
Wilson’s efforts to arm Afghan mujahedeen during Afghanistan’s war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s became a legend in Washington. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, Wilson secured money for weapons, plunging the U.S. into a risky venture against the world’s other superpower.
Wilson had a heart transplant in 2007.
Wilson, a Democrat, was considered a progressive but also a defense hawk. He had acknowledged some responsibility for Afghanistan becoming a safe haven for al-Qaida after the Soviets retreated and the U.S. withdrew its support.
“We fucked up the end game” Wilson said.
The Soviets spent a decade battling the determined and generously financed mujahedeen before pulling the Red Army from Afghanistan in 1989.
Mike Vickers, a CIA agent in 1984, said Wilson played a key part in the Soviet Union’s collapse, which happened just two years after its withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Vickers, now assistant secretary of defense for special operations, praised Wilson as a “great American patriot who played a pivotal role in a world-changing event — the defeat of the Red Army in Afghanistan, which led to the collapse of Communism and the Soviet Empire.”