Robert A. Wilson

Robert A. Wilson, the father of actors Owen and Luke Wilson, and a Dallas-area public television executive, died Friday, May 5, 2017, of Alzheimer’s disease, according to The Dallas Morning News. He was 76.

Wilson took over Dallas’ Public Broadcasting Service affiliate, KERA, in 1967. He oversaw technical improvements, such as a transition to broadcasting in color and a switch from film to video. But it was in programming that he exerted an even greater impact.

He hired journalist Jim Lehrer and put him in front of the camera for the news show “Newsroom.” The show was a precursor to PBS’s long-running “NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.”

He was also the first to broadcast “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” in America, in 1974. The British sketch comedy show launched the careers of actors John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, and director Terry Gilliam. In the days before the internet, it was unlikely Americans would have been exposed to the Python troupe's lunacy had Wilson not taken a chance and put them on the air.

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The native New Englander moved to Dallas with his wife, acclaimed photographer Laura Cunningham Wilson, to take the job at KERA. She became known for her photographs of the people and landscapes of Texas. Their three sons, Andrew, Owen, and Luke, all became actors. The latter two have had notable success in Hollywood.

Owen Wilson told The Dallas Morning News about using his father’s words in the script for “Rushmore” that he co-wrote with director Wes Anderson. Bill Murray’s character remarks, “Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine having sons like these.”

“For me and my brothers, there just wasn’t a bigger influence on us. Maybe it sounds trite or something, but I really believe that his spirit gets carried on through me, the way I like to joke around,” Owen Wilson told The Dallas Morning News.

Luke Wilson encouraged donations to PBS for anyone wishing to honor his father’s memory.

Robert Wilson is survived by his wife, Laura; sons Andrew, Owen, and Luke; and several grandchildren.

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