US President Barack Obama listens to his introduction by Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy before signing the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act at the SEED School in Washington. AFP photo.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the last surviving brother in an enduring political dynasty and one of the most influential senators in history, died Tuesday night at his home on Cape Cod after a yearlong struggle with brain cancer. He was 77.
In nearly 50 years in the Senate, Kennedy, a liberal Democrat, served alongside 10 presidents - his brother John Fitzgerald Kennedy among them - compiling an impressive list of legislative achievements on health care, civil rights, education, immigration and more.
His only run for the White House ended in defeat in 1980, when President Jimmy Carter turned back his challenge for the party's nomination. More than a quarter-century later, he handed then-Sen. Barack Obama an endorsement at a critical point in the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, explicitly likening the young contender to President Kennedy.
To the American public, Kennedy was best known as the last surviving son of America's most glamorous political family, father figure and, memorably, eulogist of an Irish-American clan plagued again and again by tragedy. But his career was forever marred by an accident at Chappaquiddick in 1969, when a car he was driving plunged off a bridge, killing a young woman.
Kennedy's death triggered an outpouring of superlatives from Democrats and Republicans as well as foreign leaders. "An important chapter in our history has come to an end. Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States senator of our time," Obama said in a written statement. "For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts," said Obama, vacationing at Martha's Vineyard off the Massachusetts coast.
Kennedy's family announced his death in a brief statement released early Wednesday. "We've lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever," it said.
He was also a key negotiator on legislation creating a Medicare prescription drug benefit for senior citizens, was a driving force for peace in Ireland and a persistent critic of the war in Iraq. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada issued a statement that said, ``It was the thrill of my lifetime to work with Ted Kennedy.....The liberal lion's mighty roar may now fall silent, but his dream shall never die."
Kennedy was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor in May 2008 and underwent surgery and a grueling regimen of radiation and chemotherapy. He made a surprise return to the Capitol last summer to cast the decisive vote for the Democrats on Medicare. He made sure he was there again last January to see his former Senate colleague Barack Obama sworn in as the nation's first black president, but suffered a seizure at a celebratory luncheon afterward.