Bill Wittliff, ‘Lonesome Dove’ screenwriter and 'Texas hero', dies aged 79

Bill Wittliff, ‘Lonesome Dove’ screenwriter and 'Texas hero', dies aged 79

Screenwriter Bill Wittliff, who co-wrote the hit mini-series based on Larry McMurtry’ Pulitzer Prize-winning western novel 'Lonesome Dove', died on Sunday near his home in Austin. The writer was 79 years old and his wife Sally (Bowers) Wittliff said the cause of death was a heart attack. His death was announced by Texas State University, where Wittliff had founded The Wittliff Collections with his wife, lawyer Sally Wittliff.

Bill Wittliff (L) and his wife Sally Wittliff attend the Austin Film Society's 15th Annual Texas Film Awards at Austin Studios on March 12, 2015. (Source: Getty Images)

A lifelong Texan, Wittliff was born in Taft in 1940 and went to Blanco High School. He graduated with a journalism degree from The University of Texas at Austin. Going on to work as a business and production manager at Southern Methodist University Press, Wittliff founded Encino Press in 1964. Wittliff continued to work with the written word and wrote for 15 different film and TV projects. 

Apart from 'Lonesome Dove', Wittliff was also the writer and director of the 1986 film 'Red Headed Stranger', worked on the screenplays of 1979 film 'The Black Stallion', and 1994’s 'The Legends of the Fall'. He also wrote the screenplays for the 1981 film 'Raggedy Man' and 2000’s 'The Perfect Storm'. 

Wittliff's wife Sally told Austin American-Statesmen about the writer's stubborn nature. "He walked around with his arm in a sling for a year, so he didn’t have to learn typing," she said. "He never did learn. He wrote everything by illegible hand." Wittliff and his wife founded an archive of work from Texas and the Southwestern U.S. at Texas State University in 1986.  The Wittliff Collections includes more than 500 special collections of literature, photography, music, and film. 

In a statement on the Collections’ website, University President Denise Trauth called the screenwriter an "inspiration" and "a Texas State hero". 

Wittliff is survived by his wife Sally, his older brother James, children Reed and Allison, and four grandchildren. 

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