“Edward M. Kennedy – the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply – died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port,” the statement said. “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.”
Mr. Kennedy had been in precarious health since he suffered a seizure in May 2008. His doctors determined the cause had been a malignant glioma, a brain tumor that often carries a grim prognosis.
As he underwent cancer treatment, Mr. Kennedy was little seen in Washington, appearing most recently at the White House in April as Mr. Obama signed a national service bill that bears the Kennedy name. Last week Mr. Kennedy urged Massachusetts lawmakers to change state law and let Gov. Deval Patrick appoint a temporary replacement upon his death, to assure that the state’s representation in Congress would not be interrupted by a special election.
While Mr. Kennedy had been physically absent from the capital in recent months, his presence had been deeply felt as Congress weighed the most sweeping revisions to America’s health care system in decades, an effort Mr. Kennedy called “the cause of my life.”
On July 15, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, which Mr. Kennedy headed, passed health care legislation, although the battle over the proposed overhaul is now consuming Capitol Hill..
Mr. Kennedy was the last surviving brother of a generation of Kennedys that dominated American politics in the 1960s and that came to embody glamour, political idealism and untimely death. The Kennedy mystique — some call it the Kennedy myth — has held the imagination of the world for decades and came to rest on the sometimes too-narrow shoulders of the brother known as Teddy.
Mr. Kennedy, who served 46 years as the most well-known Democrat in the Senate, longer than all but two other senators, was the only one of those brothers to die after reaching old age. President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were felled by assassins’ bullets in their 40s. The eldest brother, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., died in 1944 at the age of 29 while on a risky World War II bombing mission.
Mr. Kennedy spent much of last year in treatment and recuperation, broken by occasional public appearances and a dramatic return to the Capitol last summer to cast a decisive vote on a Medicare bill.
He electrified the opening night of the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August with an unscheduled appearance and a speech that had delegates on their feet. Many were in tears.
His gait was halting, but his voice was strong. “My fellow Democrats, my fellow Americans, it is so wonderful to be here, and nothing is going to keep me away from this special gathering tonight,” Mr. Kennedy said. “I have come here tonight to stand with you to change America, to restore its future, to rise to our best ideals and to elect Barack Obama president of the United States.”
Senator Kennedy was at or near the center of much of American history in the latter part of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st. For much of his adult life, he veered from victory to catastrophe, winning every Senate election he entered but failing in his only try for the presidency; living through the sudden deaths of his brothers and three of his nephews; being responsible for the drowning death on Chappaquiddick Island of a young woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, a former aide to his brother Robert. One of the nephews, John F. Kennedy Jr., who the family hoped would one day seek political office and keep the Kennedy tradition alive, died in a plane crash in 1999 at age 38.
Mr. Kennedy himself was almost killed, in 1964, in a plane crash, which left him with permanent back and neck problems.
He was a Rabelaisian figure in the Senate and in life, instantly recognizable by his shock of white hair, his florid, oversize face, his booming Boston brogue, his powerful but pained stride. He was a celebrity, sometimes a self-parody, a hearty friend, an implacable foe, a man of large faith and large flaws, a melancholy character who persevered, drank deeply and sang loudly. He was a Kennedy.
-The New York Times