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Former Congressman Charlie Wilson Dies

Charlie Wilson, a Texas congressman whose covert efforts to aid Afghan fighters against Soviet invaders became the subject of a movie, died Wednesday. He was 76.

Wilson died at Memorial Medical Center in his hometown of Lufkin, Texas. The preliminary cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest, hospital spokeswoman Yana Ogletree said.

The Democrat's good looks, deep voice and penchant for dating beauty queens made Wilson one of the most colorful characters in Congress, where he served from 1973 through 1996. He was nicknamed "Good Time Charlie," and his almost all-female staff was known as "Charlie's Angels."

The congressman's social life was notable because he represented a district in the Bible Belt.

Yet East Texas voters elected Wilson 12 times, a tribute to his constituent service and, some colleagues said, the fact that he didn't try to disguise who he was.

"They loved him," retired lawmaker Martin Frost, a Texas Democrat who served with Wilson, told USA TODAY in 2007. "He was honest, and he was interesting."

After the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979, Wilson became interested in the plight of the Afghan guerrillas trying to retake their country. From his seat on the House appropriations panel that oversees the Pentagon budget, he created a secret fund for the Afghan warriors, funneled through the Pakistani secret service. He provided Afghans with Stinger missiles that enabled them to shoot down Soviet aircraft.

Wilson's efforts, which helped turn the tide for the Afghans, was chronicled in a book, Charlie Wilson's War. That led to a movie in 2007 with actor Tom Hanks playing Wilson. Hanks said Wilson roamed the movie set, a dog-eared copy of the script in hand, to insist on accuracy.

Wilson made multiple trips to Pakistan's treacherous North West Frontier province to meet with the Afghan fighters. He once boasted of having crossed the border into the war zone. "I want to kill communists as painfully as possible," Wilson told The Houston Post.

After planning for the 9/11 terrorist attacks was traced back to some of the Afghan fighters Wilson may have helped arm, he defended his actions. The mistake, Wilson argued, was not in helping the Afghans roust the Soviets but in abandoning them afterward.

Wilson is survived by his wife, Barbara, a former ballet dancer.

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