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RIP Bill Wittliff: Texas-born Screenwriter of ‘Lonesome Dove’ was 79

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Bill Wittliff, the celebrated writer who crafted the screenplay for the beloved “Lonesome Dove” miniseries, has passed away as a result of a heart attack at the age of 79. Wittliff was also a director and photographer, but for many of us, he was most known as the author of the 1985 “Lonesome Dove” miniseries screenplay. In addition, he co-founded the Wittliff Collections, a popular archive at Texas State University consisting of manuscripts and papers by Southwestern writers and artists.

Following the announcement of his death, Wittliff’s friend and fellow author Stephen Harrigan told Austin360.com, “It’s impossible to overstate the influence Bill had on writers, photographers and filmmakers, all throughout Austin, Texas and United States. He made it possible for people with raging ambition to plant a flag in Austin and Texas and make this their hometown. He defied the dictum that you had to move to Hollywood to be successful. He is completely irreplaceable. Fortunately, he created a self-perpetuating inspiration machine through the Wittliff Collections, a place where you can see how it is done and how it can be done. Although his accomplishments are staggering, that’s probably how he will be best remembered.”

RIP Bill Wittliff: Texas-born Screenwriter of ‘Lonesome Dove' was 79

Photo: Facebook/The Script Lab

Wittliff was born with a skill for storytelling. As recent as 2018, Wittliff completed a trilogy entitled “Popa Tales,” an imaginative set of short novels centered around the adventures of a boy in the Texas Hill Country. They were notably compared to the works of Mark Twain and Larry McMurtry, among others. An avid collector of books and an artist in other mediums, Wittliff was a native of Taft, Texas. He was a Blanco High School and University of Texas alumnus, having earned a degree in journalism. His wife Sally Wittliff stated, “His greatest achievement at UT was that he never took typing. He walked around with his arm in a sling for a year, so he didn’t have to learn typing. He never did learn. He wrote everything by illegible hand.” His screenplay credits also included 1982’s “Barbarosa” (starring Willie Nelson), 1994’s “Legends of the Fall” (starring Brad Pitt), and the blockbuster film, “The Perfect Storm,”  in 2000 (starring George Clooney). Likewise, he wrote and directed “Red Headed Stranger,” the 1986 film starring Nelson alongside Morgan Fairchild. Saturday was reportedly the Wittliffs’ 56th anniversary. Memorial service details are in the process of being finalized.