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Robert Wilson Dies: Public TV Pioneer and Father of Luke and Owen Was 75

Deadline logo Deadline 5/7/2017 Dade Hayes
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Robert Wilson, a public television pioneer who became known as the father to writer-actors Luke, Owen and Andrew Wilson, has died at age 75.

Luke Wilson confirmed to the Dallas Morning News that his father had died Friday after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. No official cause of death was provided.

Known as Bob, the elder Wilson blazed a trail in public television, running KERA in Dallas and hiring Jim Lehrer, giving the former newspaperman his start on TV. Newsroom, a public-affairs show conceived of by Wilson, featured Lehrer as host and would be his springboard to becoming a national anchor. The station also became the first U.S. broadcast home for Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Wilson was in charge of KERA from 1967 to 1975 and subsequently ran his own communications business.

Owen Wilson spoke with the Dallas Morning News 2015 about his father’s struggle with Alzheimer’s. “It’s a rough thing,” he told the paper. “It’s one of those things where if somebody had said 10 years ago, when my dad and I were joking around, having a putting match, that this is the position your dad’s going to be in, where he basically needs 24-hour care, you’d think, ‘Gosh, I won’t be able to handle that. That’s just not possible.’ But it does happen. Such things just happen in life.”

For all three brothers, he added, “there just wasn’t a bigger influence on us.”

None of the three followed a conventional path, nor did they end up earning college degrees, a circumstance that their father, a Dartmouth grad, acknowledged was a challenge at times. But he also spoke with abundant pride about their accomplishments, which include starring in the breakout 1996 film Bottle Rocket, which was directed by Wes Anderson, a college friend of Owen Wilson and a close family friend.

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