Bill Wittliff, a garrulous Texas-bred screenwriter who adapted Larry McMurtry’s sweeping Pulitzer Prize-winning Western novel “Lonesome Dove” into a hit miniseries, died Sunday near his home in Austin, Texas.
He was 79.
His wife, Sally (Bowers) Wittliff, said the cause was a heart attack.
By the time he retold McMurtry’s 1985 novel about two former Texas Rangers on a cattle drive to Montana as a four-part, eight-hour saga in 1989, Wittliff had demonstrated a strong affinity for the outsize mythology and history of Texas. He had also become a prominent cultural figure in Austin.
He and his wife had owned a small press that published books by writers from Texas and other parts of the Southwest. They had also begun a university archive, the Southwestern Writers Collection, filled with manuscripts and artifacts.
And he had written the screenplays for a number of films set in Texas, among them “Raggedy Man” (1981), in which Sissy Spacek played a character based on his mother, who raised her two sons as a small-town telephone switchboard operator.
“I think I was the perfect screenwriter for this,” Wittliff told Texas Monthly in 1988 during the filming of “Lonesome Dove,” which starred Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones. “The people in the book are all Larry’s people, but I knew them too.”
In addition to his wife, Wittliff is survived by his daughter, Allison Andrews; his son, Reid; his brother; and four grandchildren.