Ex-Congressman and 'friend of Israel' Charlie Wilson dies at 76
Former Congress liaison at the Israeli embassy: His support for Israel was based on the belief that we are a brave people.
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.
Zvi Rafiah, who was the Israeli embassy's liaison with Congress from 1973 to 1979, called Wilson "one of Congress' greatest Israel supporters."
"I think that there were no Jews in his constituency, but he was a true friend. His support for Israel was based on his belief that we are a brave people, a sort of David to Goliath," Rafiah added.
"We're not used to having the Congress come to us, but he was the only Congressman to show up at the embassy on the second day of the [Yom Kippur] War to ask for an update on the situation at the front," Rafiah told Haaretz. "Motta Gur, who was the military attaché at the time, briefed him."
"At the moment a ceasefire was declared, he immediately came to visit Israel and he came many times afterward. Israel owes him a great deal. His friendship with Egypt and Pakistan never came at Israel's expense," Rafiah concluded.
Wilson represented the 2nd district in east Texas 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 well.
Wilson is survived by his wife and a sister.