It was the heckle heard round the world or at least all over cable news. As President Barack Obama addressed a joint session of Congress on health-care reform on Wednesday, Sept. 9, Representative Joe Wilson broke the chamber's strict etiquette by yelling "You lie!" after the President (accurately) noted that his proposed health-care benefits would not extend to illegal immigrants. With those two words, the South Carolina Republican was transformed into a national political figure (if only briefly), loathed by Democrats and rebuked by fellow Republicans for defying tradition. At the GOP leadership's behest, Wilson called the White House that night to apologize. Heavy volume knocked out Wilson's website and phone lines the next day, and his Democratic opponent, Rob Miller, reported $400,000 in new contributions in less than 24 hours (one hastily created website, blasting the Congressman with the title "Joe Wilson Is Your Preexisting Condition", included a link to donate to Miller). But to the reform plan's most combative opponents, Wilson emerged as something of a hero. His Facebook page registered 1,200 comments, many of them strongly supporting his outburst and criticizing him only for backing down. A Facebook user named Bugs wrote, "We need to find an antidote to the Obama Kool-aid. You go, Joe!"
Born Addison Graves Wilson on July 31, 1947, in Charleston, S.C.
Graduated from Washington and Lee University in 1969 and earned a law degree from the University of South Carolina in 1972.
Practiced law from 1972 to 2001, including a stint as a deputy counsel at the Energy Department under President Ronald Reagan. Also worked as an aide to both Representative Floyd Spence and Senator Strom Thurmond.
Served in the South Carolina state senate from 1985 to 2001. Also served in the U.S. Army Reserves and the South Carolina Army National Guard, retiring as a colonel in 2003.
Won a House seat in 2001 in a special election following the death of Representative Spence, a mentor. Represents the 2nd District, which includes Hilton Head Island and much of the state capital, Columbia.
Married to Roxanne Wilson and has four sons, all of them Eagle Scouts who also served in the military. His oldest son, a prosecutor, recently announced plans to run for South Carolina attorney general.
A solid Republican, Wilson has earned 100% ratings from the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy group. Supported a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman and vocally supported President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's management of the war in Iraq. A display case in his office contains pieces of Saddam Hussein's dismantled missiles from the first Gulf War.
Demanded an apology from Senator John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign for Kerry's 1971 congressional testimony accusing U.S. soldiers of atrocities in Vietnam.
Takes a five-day bus tour across his home district once a year.
"While I disagree with the President's statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the President for this lack of civility."
Statement following his outburst (Sept. 9)
"I will tell you this: It was spontaneous. It was when he stated as he did about not covering illegal aliens."
Speaking with reporters the next day (MSNBC.com, Sept. 10)
"I just understand that there is a level of lawlessness; there is a level of lawlessness here in the United States. It shocks me every day that there are shootings even in my neighborhood in Lexington County."
Disagreeing about violence in Iraq with South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who said the country was "on the verge of chaos." (the State (Columbia, S.C.), Oct. 25, 2006)
"Sometimes these things just go on. These are heroes of mine. I really hope these would be heroes to future generations of Americans. [The stories] are ... a way to diminish their contributions to our country's existence."
Complaining of negative media attention toward affairs conducted by Strom Thurmond and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom fathered children out of wedlock with African-American women (the State, Dec. 14, 2003)
"He is like the Energizer Bunny. Many of us comment on how he goes from sunup to well past sundown trying to attend as many official duties as he can. If he's invited to 10 meetings in a day, he will go to those 10 meetings and set up five more."
Representative Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican (the State, July 22, 2007)
"I thought the governor [Mark Sanford] had embarrassed us enough, but Mr. Wilson has gone even lower."
Representative Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat (the State, Sept. 10, 2009)
"More people need to step up to the plate and publicly challenge the lies! Please, no more apologies Joe."
A message left for Wilson on Facebook by Carl Winter, a supporter (Sept. 10, 2009)
"I was embarrassed for the chamber and a Congress I love. It demeaned the institution."
Vice President Joe Biden (ABC News, Sept. 10)
"I'm a big believer that we all make mistakes. He apologized quickly and without equivocation, and I'm appreciative of that."
President Obama (New York Times, Sept. 10, 2009)