Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a one-time presidential hopeful and nine-term senator who evolved from the overshadowed youngest son to the patriarch of the country's most famous political dynasty, died late Tuesday evening of brain cancer at his Cape Cod home at the age of 77.
The Massachusetts Democrat's massive legacy includes a complex and controversial personal history and an unparalleled impact on the nation's laws over the past half-century. But it also raises questions about the fate of health care reform and other goals long championed by liberalism's "lion of the Senate."
President Obama led a massive outpouring of tributes and encomiums from friends, colleagues and foreign leaders, and from political allies and adversaries alike. They all were eager to laud Mr. Kennedy, the last surviving son of an extraordinary political family that included his assassinated elder brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
"An important chapter in our history has come to an end," Mr. Obama said. "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."
Sen. John McCain of Arizona was one of Mr. Kennedy's many Republican colleagues who praised his passion, integrity and willingness to work across party lines.
"By the end of his life, he had become irreplaceable in the institution he loved and in the affections of its members," Mr. McCain said. "He grew up in the long shadow of his brothers, but found a way to be useful to his country in ways that will outlast their accomplishments."
After a funeral Mass in Boston on Saturday, Mr. Kennedy will be buried later that day at Arlington National Cemetery, near the graves of his brothers, the Kennedy family announced late Wednesday. Mr. Kennedy is eligible for burial in the military cemetery because he was a member of the Senate and because he served for two years in the Army in the early 1950s.
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Mr. Kennedy's passing brings uncertainty to the drive for a major health care bill in the Senate, even though he was largely sidelined from the debate after his brain cancer diagnosis in May 2008.
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, took over Mr. Kennedy's duties as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee this year to shepherd through one version of the bill, but the effort is still struggling in the face of near-unanimous opposition from Republicans and skepticism from moderate Democrats.
Check out more video coverage of Sen. Kennedy, here.
The loss of Mr. Kennedy cuts both ways politically. It could rally supporters to make his health care dream a reality but also means one less critical vote and irreplaceable voice as the debate intensifies.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd, who is in poor health, urged Wednesday that the health care plan be passed as a tribute to the work of his longtime colleague.
"In his honor and as a tribute to his commitment to his ideals, let us stop the shouting and name-calling and have a civilized debate on health care reform which, I hope, when legislation is signed into law, will bear his name for his commitment to insuring the health of every American," the West Virginia Democrat said.
Republican lawmakers effusively praised Mr. Kennedy and said no other Democrat on Capitol Hill has been able to fill the legislative void left by his lengthy illness and death.
Mr. Kennedy was able to work "very successfully with Republicans to achieve actual enactment of legislation," said Ron Pollack, executive director of the health care advocacy group Families USA. "Obviously, that involves compromise and a level of trust that he has built over the decades."
Check out the Washington Times interactive Remembering Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
The health care debate was the latest fight in a remarkable public career that began with Mr. Kennedy's election to the Senate in 1962 - inheriting the seat his brother John held before his election to the presidency two years earlier.
Outside of Washington, Mr. Kennedy was often a divisive figure, loved by liberals and hated by conservatives, both for his stances and his personal behavior. But inside the Senate, he was known as a gracious and gifted lawmaker, eager to pair up with even the most conservative of Republicans if it meant getting a bill passed.
He built a legislative resume unequaled in modern times, with more than 300 of his bills signed into law. He was instrumental in pushing the No Child Left Behind education reform act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and a host of health care measures.
But just as central to his legacy are the things he blocked, such as the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Robert H. Bork in the 1980s or a full rewrite of Medicare when President George W. Bush added a prescription-drug element.
Although he lost his 1980 challenge to President Carter for the Democratic presidential nomination, Mr. Kennedy became kingmaker for others seeking his party's nomination. He had a pioneering role in what later became Democratic platform staples, including universal health insurance in the 1970s. He also led the charge on opposition to the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and the Iraq war that began in 2003.
Click here to see a timeline of Mr. Kennedy's life.
Mr. Kennedy was the youngest of Joseph and Rose Kennedy's nine children, raised in an atmosphere of privilege owing to Joseph Kennedy's vast personal fortune. Among Mr. Kennedy's siblings were John F. Kennedy, whose presidency gave rise to the label of Camelot that has stuck to the family ever since, and Robert F. Kennedy, a former senator, attorney general and presidential candidate. Both men were assassinated in the 1960s.
Mr. Kennedy graduated from Harvard in 1956 and from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1959.
Mr. Kennedy is survived by his wife, Vicki; three children, including Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island; one sister, Jean Kennedy Smith; and dozens of grandchildren, nieces and nephews. His first marriage to Virginia Joan Bennett ended in divorce in 1982.
"Edward M. Kennedy, the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply, died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port," the Kennedy family said in a statement early Wednesday.
The senator had a long list of critics, and a list of failings that gave those critics plenty of ammunition.
In the most notorious chapter of his life, he pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident after a July 18, 1969, incident on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts, when he swerved off the Dike Bridge and into Poucha Pond. He swam away from the wreck but left 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, a passenger in his car, to drown.
Mr. Kennedy also acknowledged being a drinker. His exploits during and after his first marriage were regular fodder for gossip pages, and made famous the Washington restaurants that were the scenes of some of the reported incidents.
His ups and downs would lead the Boston Globe's political team, which completed a biography of the senator earlier this year, to describe his life as a "fall and rise."
Some constants in his life included the burdens of his famous family name and his Irish-Catholic heritage.
He received his First Holy Communion from Pope Pius XII at the Vatican. In July, when Mr. Obama had an audience with Pope Benedict XVI, the president gave the pope a private letter from Mr. Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy also prompted countless debates within the Catholic community for taking Communion despite a pro-choice voting record.
As for family, it was both a source of respite and a reminder that he was always in the public eye.
His sailing trips off Cape Cod or time spent at the family's Palm Beach, Fla., compound were favorite pastimes, but could prove to be sources of trouble as well. In 1991, his nephew William Kennedy Smith was tried and acquitted of rape charges stemming from an evening at the Palm Beach compound while he was visiting with his uncle.
It was after the Chappaquiddick incident that Mr. Kennedy questioned whether there wasn't some sort of curse on the Kennedy family.
After his brain cancer diagnosis, Mr. Kennedy began an aggressive regimen of surgery, then weeks of radiation and chemotherapy treatment.
Mr. Kennedy was reviled by conservative Republicans, who used his name to help fundraising drives, and he was a frequent target of jokes about government and tax increases. However, he never lost his moral or political clout among Democrats.
He helped push Sen. John Kerry, his fellow senator from Massachusetts, over the line for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, and his early endorsement of Mr. Obama in the fierce primary battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton helped propel Mr. Obama to the nomination and the White House in 2008.
At last year's presidential nominating convention, Mr. Kennedy made an appearance and declared that the torch his brother John had taken up at his 1961 inauguration had been passed once again to Mr. Obama.
"The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on," Mr. Kennedy proclaimed.
But the ailing senator was not able to help carry Mr. Obama's dream. On Inauguration Day, Mr. Kennedy collapsed and had to be taken out of a Capitol Hill luncheon with Mr. Obama and Congress, and he returned only sporadically for votes in the Senate.
Recognizing his difficulties, Senate officials loaned him use of a room closer to the Senate floor to replace the storied hideaway that had been so important as a symbol of his power since the 1980s.
In that room, he had entertained junior senators, hosted informal discussions with reporters, and hammered out the tricky details of legislation with other committee chairmen and administration officials. It was reportedly the spot where Mr. Kennedy made an overture to Mr. McCain in 2001 to switch parties.
In 2006, when the cable network C-SPAN presented a three-part series on the history of the U.S. Capitol, Mr. Kennedy gave the cameras a brief look at his hideaway, and pointed out the fireplace, which is connected to the Republican Senate leader's office a floor below. It was the fireplace, Mr. Kennedy said, used by British troops to light their torches to burn the city in 1814.
For decades, up-and-coming liberal activists knew that being in Mr. Kennedy's employ was the way to make a name in Washington. His ex-staffers now populate a giant part of the Washington liberal activist world, from congressional offices to think tanks to the Obama administration.
His 15,236 votes on the Senate floor stand as the fourth highest total in the chamber's history. His first vote in 1963 was a procedural measure to determine whether a quorum was present on the chamber's opening day. He cast his final vote on April 27, to help advance a bill to crack down on mortgage fraud.
He secured spots on all of the key Senate committees for advancing his agenda, including the Judiciary Committee, the Labor and Public Welfare Committee, and the Armed Services Committee. He would serve as chairman of the first two committees.
His oratory skills were substantial, and were matched by a booming voice and an emotional charge that he put into delivering his floor speeches. Minutes into his speeches, he often would come to a subject that angered him. His face would redden, his voice would rise and he would thunder about the injustice of blocking aid for this or that group.
Many supporters can recite by heart passages from his most famous speech, given at the August 1980 Democratic convention just after Mr. Carter was formally nominated.
"For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end," Mr. Kennedy said. "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."
Despite his failure to win the White House, Mr. Kennedy compiles a legislative record not likely to be equaled soon. He sponsored about 2,500 bills and more than 300 of those became law, his office says. Not all of his major accomplishments bore his name - senators said he was gracious with sharing credit.
One of the earliest bills he sponsored in 1963 was to rewrite immigration laws to end national quotas - a goal he'd win within just a few years. But his interest in immigration would last throughout his time in the Senate, including fierce battles in 2006 and 2007 to try to legalize the status of millions of illegal immigrants.
He also played a major role in the Northern Ireland peace process. He was seen as a supporter of the Catholic side, but that went only so far. In 2005, he caused a stir when he refused to meet with Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army's political arm, and instead met with the family and fiancee of a man fatally stabbed after a bar fight with IRA operatives.
He was given an honorary knighthood by Britain earlier this year.
Still, his biggest unfinished fight was for universal health care. As an early proponent of a government-run system, Mr. Kennedy battled to a stalemate with President Nixon, who favored employer-based coverage.
Mr. Kennedy, who later in life became a master of winning incremental victories toward his larger goals, eventually would wonder whether he shouldn't have taken Mr. Nixon's compromise at the time.
Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this report.
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