The lung cancer was found during a follow-up visit for a bronchial illness. A few weeks later, Paterno broke his pelvis after a fall but did not need surgery.
The hospital said Paterno was surrounded by family members, who have requested privacy.
Paterno had been in the hospital since Jan. 13 for observation after what his family called minor complications from his cancer treatments. Washington Post writer Sally Jenkins, who conducted the final interview, described Paterno then as frail, speaking mostly in a whisper and wearing a wig. The second half of the two-day interview was done at his bedside.
On Sunday, two police officers were stationed to block traffic on the street where Paterno’s modest ranch home stands next to a local park. The officers said the family had asked there be no public gathering outside the house, still decorated with a Christmas wreath, so Paterno’s relatives could grieve privately. And, indeed, the street was quiet on a cold winter day.
Paterno’s sons, Scott and Jay, arrived separately at the house late Sunday morning. Jay Paterno, who was his father’s quarterbacks coach, was crying.
“His loss leaves a void in our lives that will never be filled,” the family said in a statement. “He died as he lived. He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone of how blessed his life had been. His ambitions were far reaching, but he never believed he had to leave this Happy Valley to achieve them. He was a man devoted to his family, his university, his players and his community.”
Paterno built a program based on the credo of “Success with Honor,” and he found both. He won 409 games and took the Nittany Lions to 37 bowl games and two national championships. More than 250 of the players he coached went on to the NFL.
“He will go down as the greatest football coach in the history of the game,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said after his former team, the Florida Gators, beat Penn State 37-24 in the 2011 Outback Bowl.
The university handed the football team to one of Paterno’s assistants, Tom Bradley, who said Paterno “will go down in history as one of the greatest men, who maybe most of you know as a great football coach.”
“As the last 61 years have shown, Joe made an incredible impact,” said the statement from the family. “That impact has been felt and appreciated by our family in the form of thousands of letters and well wishes along with countless acts of kindness from people whose lives he touched. It is evident also in the thousands of successful student athletes who have gone on to multiply that impact as they spread out across the country.”
New Penn State football coach Bill O’Brien, hired earlier this month, offered his condolences.
“There are no words to express my respect for him as a man and as a coach,” O’Brien said in a statement. “To be following in his footsteps at Penn State is an honor.”
Paterno believed success was not measured entirely on the field. From his idealistic early days, he had implemented what he called a “grand experiment” _ to graduate more players while maintaining success on the field.
The team consistently ranked among the best in the Big Ten for graduating players. As of 2011, it had 49 academic All-Americans, the third-highest among schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision. All but two played under Paterno.
“He teaches us about really just growing up and being a man,” former linebacker Paul Posluszny, now with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, once said. “Besides the football, he’s preparing us to be good men in life.”