msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/8/2011 6:50:13 AM ET 2011-08-08T10:50:13

Texas billionaire and philanthropist Charles Wyly, whose family donated millions of dollars to Republican causes and Dallas arts projects, has died after a car accident in Colorado, authorities said. He was 77.

Wyly, who maintained a home near Aspen, Colo., was turning onto a highway near the local airport when his Porsche was hit by a sport utility vehicle Sunday, the Colorado State Patrol said in a statement. Wyly died at Aspen Valley Hospital.

"He is among the finest people I have ever known," William Brewer III, Wyly's attorney and long-time friend, said in a statement to The Associated Press. "His contributions in business, philanthropy and civic leadership will forever be remembered."

The other driver suffered moderate injuries.

In Texas, Wyly and his younger brother, Sam, along with their wives, gave $20 million to help build Dallas' performing arts center. They also donated big, but quietly, to Republican causes: the brothers had said they'd given about $10 million to GOP candidates and causes since the 1970s.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was one of the biggest political beneficiaries, receiving more than $300,000 combined from the Wylys since 2000, according to Texas Ethics Commission reports. According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, the brothers had donated almost $2.5 million to more than 200 Republican candidates and committees at the federal level over the past two decades.

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Last summer, the Securities and Exchange Commission accused Wyly and his brother of using offshore havens to hide more than a half-billion dollars in profits over 13 years of insider stock trading. The brothers denied and were fighting the allegations.

Born during the Great Depression, Charles Wyly was a child when the collapsed economy forced the surrender of his family's cotton farm in Lake Providence, La. According to the Dallas Morning News, he won a football scholarship to Louisiana Tech University before going on to work for IBM.

'He was always optimistic'
Charles Wyly helped his brother run their startup computer software company, University Computing, and later founded and led several other companies including arts and crafts retail chain Michaels Stores Inc., which was sold in 2006. He also was a former member of a White House Advisory Council for Management Improvement.

Leaders of the Dallas arts community were stunned by news of Charles Wyly's death. Bill Lively, who launched the 2000 campaign to build the $345 million performing arts center in Dallas, told the Morning News that Wyly was "a critically important force." The complex has a theater named after Wyly.

"He was always positive," Lively said. "He was always optimistic."

Robyn Flatt, executive artistic director of the Dallas Children's Theater, said Wyly was a good friend who made "immeasurable" contributions to the Dallas arts scene.

"He was a true friend of the arts and our community, a friend who truly cared and who truly made a difference," Flatt told the Morning News.

According to the Morning News, Wyly is survived by his wife Dee, four children and seven grandchildren.

The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

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