Mass. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy dead at 77

(AP) - Sen. Edward M. Kennedy ofMassachusetts, the last surviving brother in an enduring politicaldynasty and one of the most influential senators in history, diedat

HYANNIS PORT - (AP) - Sen. Edward M. Kennedy ofMassachusetts, the last surviving brother in an enduring politicaldynasty and one of the most influential senators in history, diedat his home on Cape Cod after a yearlong struggle with braincancer. He was 77. In nearly 50 years in the Senate, Kennedy, a liberal Democrat,served alongside 10 presidents - his brother John FitzgeraldKennedy among them - compiling an impressive list of legislativeachievements on health care, civil rights, education, immigrationand more. Speaking briefly to reporters at his rented vacation home onMartha's Vineyard, Mass., President Barack Obama eulogized Kennedyas one of the "most accomplished Americans" in history - and aman whose work in Congress helped give millions new opportunities. "Including myself," added the nation's first black president. A source, speaking on grounds of anonymity because plans werestill under way, told The Associated Press that Kennedy, who diedTuesday night, will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Atthe eternal flame rests four Kennedy family members, including theformer president, Jacqueline Kennedy, their baby son, Patrick, whodied after two days, and a still-born child. Former Sen. RobertKennedy F. Kennedy is buried a short distance away. Kennedy's only run for the White House ended in defeat in 1980,when President Jimmy Carter turned back his challenge for theparty's nomination. More than a quarter-century later, Kennedyhanded then-Sen. Barack Obama an endorsement at a critical point inthe campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, explicitlylikening the young contender to President Kennedy. To the American public, Kennedy was best known as the lastsurviving son of America's most glamorous political family, fatherfigure and, memorably, eulogist of an Irish-American clan plaguedagain and again by tragedy. But his career was forever marred by anaccident at Chappaquiddick in 1969, when a car he was drivingplunged off a bridge, killing a young woman passenger. Kennedy's death triggered an outpouring of superlatives fromDemocrats and Republicans as well as foreign leaders. Vice President Joe Biden said he was "truly, truly distressedby his passing" and said that in the Senate, Kennedy had restoredhis "sense of idealism." Sen. Orrin Hatch, the conservative Republican from Utah whoformed a political alliance with Kennedy on some health-relatedlegislation, called Kennedy "an iconic, larger than life UnitedStates senator whose influence cannot be overstated." Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., the longest-serving senator, said:"I had hoped and prayed that this day would never come. My heartand soul weeps at the lost of my best friend in the Senate, mybeloved friend, Ted Kennedy." Kennedy's family announced his death in a brief statementreleased early Wednesday. "We've lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyouslight in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, andperseverance will live on in our hearts forever," it said. "Wethank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year,and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tirelessmarch for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity forall." A few hours later, two vans left the famed Kennedy compound atHyannis Port in pre-dawn darkness. Both bore hearse license plates- with the word "hearse" blacked out. Several hundred miles away, flags few at half-staff at the U.S.Capitol, and Obama ordered the same at the White House and allfederal buildings. In his later years, Kennedy cut a barrel-chested profile, with aswath of white hair, a booming voice and a thick, widely imitatedBoston accent. He coupled fist-pumping floor speeches with hiswell-honed Irish charm and formidable negotiating skills. He wasboth a passionate liberal and a clear-eyed pragmatist, willing toreach across the aisle. He was first elected to the Senate in 1962, taking the seat thathis brother John had occupied before winning the White House, andserved longer than all but two senators in history. His own hopes of reaching the White House were damaged - perhapsdoomed - in 1969 by the scandal that came to be known asChappaquiddick. He sought the White House more than a decade later,lost the Democratic nomination to Carter, and bowed out with astirring valedictory that echoed across the decades: "For allthose whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, thecause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall neverdie." Kennedy was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor in May 2008and underwent surgery and a grueling regimen of radiation andchemotherapy. He made a surprise return to the Capitol last summer to cast thedecisive vote for the Democrats on Medicare. He made sure he wasthere again last January to see his former Senate colleague swornin as the nation's first black president, but suffered a seizure ata celebratory luncheon afterward. He also made a surprise and forceful appearance at last summer'sDemocratic National Convention, where he spoke of his own illnessand said health care was the cause of his life. His death occurredprecisely one year later, almost to the hour. He was away from the Senate for much of this year, leavingRepublicans and Democrats to speculate about what his absence meantfor the fate of Obama's health care proposals. Under state law, Kennedy's successor will be chosen by specialelection. In his last known public act, the senator urgedMassachusetts state legislators to give Democratic Gov. DevalPatrick the power to name an interim replacement. But that appearsunlikely, even though Patrick said Wednesday in radio interviewsthat he would sign such a bill if it reached his desk. The vacancyleaves Democrats in Washington with one less vote for at least thenext several months as they struggle to pass Obama's health carelegislation. His death came less than two weeks after that of his sisterEunice Kennedy Shriver on Aug. 11. Kennedy was not present for thefuneral, an indication of the precariousness of his own health. Ofnine children born to Joseph and Rose Kennedy, only one - JeanKennedy Smith, survives. In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Kennedy's sonRep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., said his father had defied thepredictions of doctors by surviving more than a year with his fightagainst brain cancer. The younger Kennedy said that gave family members a surpriseblessing, as they were able to spend more time with the senator andto tell him how much he had meant to their lives. Kennedy arrived at his place in the Senate after a string offamily tragedies. He was the only one of the four Kennedy brothersto die of natural causes. Kennedy's eldest brother, Joseph, was killed in a plane crash inWorld War II. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallasin 1963. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down in Los Angeles ashe campaigned for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination. Years later, in 1999, John F. Kennedy Jr. was killed in a planecrash at age 38. His wife died with him. It fell to Ted Kennedy to deliver the eulogies, to comfort hisbrothers' widows, to mentor fatherless nieces and nephews. It wasTed Kennedy who walked JFK's daughter, Caroline, down the aisle ather wedding. Tragedy had a way of bringing out his eloquence. Kennedy sketched a dream of a better future as he laid Robert torest in 1968: "My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged indeath beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a goodand decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw sufferingand tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it." After John Jr.'s death, the senator said: "We dared to think,in that other Irish phrase, that this John Kennedy would live tocomb gray hair, with his beloved Carolyn by his side. But like hisfather, he had every gift but length of years." His own legacy was blighted on the night of July 18, 1969, whenKennedy drove his car off a bridge and into a pond onChappaquiddick Island, on Martha's Vineyard. Mary Jo Kopechne, a28-year-old worker with RFK's campaign, was found dead in thesubmerged car's back seat 10 hours later. Kennedy, then 37, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of anaccident and received a two-month suspended sentence and a year'sprobation. A judge eventually determined there was "probable causeto believe that Kennedy operated his motor vehicle negligently ...and that such operation appears to have contributed to the death ofMary Jo Kopechne." At the height of the scandal, Kennedy went on nationaltelevision to explain himself in an extraordinary 13-minute addressin which he denied driving drunk and rejected rumors of "immoralconduct" with Ms. Kopechne. He said he was haunted by"irrational" thoughts immediately after the accident, andwondered "whether some awful curse did actually hang over all theKennedys." He said his failure to report the accident right awaywas "indefensible." After Chappaquiddick especially, Kennedy gained a reputation asa heavy drinker and a womanizer, a tragically flawed figure hauntedby the fear that he did not quite measure up to his brothers. Ashis weight ballooned, he was lampooned by comics and cartoonists inthe 1980s and '90s as the very embodiment of government waste,bloat and decadence. In 1991, Kennedy roused his nephew William Kennedy Smith and hisson Patrick from bed to go out for drinks while staying at thefamily's Palm Beach, Fla., estate. Later that night, a woman Smithmet at a bar accused him of raping her at the home. Smith was acquitted, but the senator's carousing - and testimonyabout him wandering about the house in his shirttails and no pants- further damaged his reputation. Kennedy offered a mea culpa in a speech at Harvard that October,recognizing "my own shortcomings, the faults in the conduct of myprivate life." Politically, his concession speech at the Democratic conventionin 1980 turned out to be a defining moment. At 48, he seemedliberated from the towering expectations and high hopes invested inhim after the death of his brothers, and he plunged into his workin the Senate. In his later years, after he had divorced andremarried, he came to be regarded as a statesman on Capitol Hill,with a growing reputation as an effective, hard-working lawmaker. His legislative achievements included bills to provide healthinsurance for children of the working poor, the landmark 1990Americans with Disabilities Act, Meals on Wheels for the elderly,abortion clinic access, family leave, and the Occupational Safetyand Health Administration. He was also a key negotiator on legislation creating a Medicareprescription drug benefit for senior citizens, was a driving forcefor peace in Ireland and a persistent critic of the war in Iraq. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said: "TedKennedy's dream was the one for which the Founding Fathers foughtand for which his brothers sought to realize. The liberal lion'smighty roar may now fall silent, but his dream shall never die." Former first Lady Nancy Reagan said that her husband and Kennedy"could always find common ground, and they had great respect forone another." Said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown: "Even facing illnessand death he never stopped fighting for the causes which were hislife's work. I am proud to have counted him as a friend and proudthat the United Kingdom recognized his service earlier this yearwith the award of an honorary knighthood." Whatever his national standing, Kennedy was unbeatable inMassachusetts. He won his first election in 1962, filling out theunexpired portion of his brother's term. He won an eighth term in2006. Kennedy served close to 47 years, longer than all but twosenators in history: Robert Byrd of West Virginia (50 years andcounting) and the late Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who diedafter a tenure of nearly 47½ years. Born in 1932, the youngest of Joseph and Rose Kennedy's ninechildren, Edward Moore Kennedy was part of a family bristling withpolitical ambition, beginning with maternal grandfather John F."Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, a congressman and mayor of Boston. Round-cheeked Teddy was thrown out of Harvard in 1951 forcheating, after arranging for a classmate to take a freshmanSpanish exam for him. He eventually returned, earning his degree in1956. He went on to the University of Virginia Law School, and in1962, while his brother John was president, announced plans to runfor the Senate seat JFK had vacated in 1960. A family friend hadheld the seat in the interim because Kennedy was not yet 30, theminimum age for a senator. Kennedy was immediately involved in a bruising primary campaignagainst state Attorney General Edward J. McCormack, a nephew ofU.S. House Speaker John W. McCormack. "If your name was simply Edward Moore, your candidacy would bea joke," chided McCormack. Kennedy won the primary by 300,000 votes and went on tooverwhelmingly defeat Republican George Cabot Lodge, son of thelate Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, in the general election. Devastated by his brothers' assassinations and injured in a 1964plane crash that left him with back pain that would plague him fordecades, Kennedy temporarily withdrew from public life in 1968. Buthe re-emerged in 1969 to be elected majority whip of the Senate. Then came Chappaquiddick. Kennedy still handily won re-election in 1970, but he lost hisleadership job. He remained outspoken in his opposition to theVietnam War and support of social programs but ruled out a 1976presidential bid. In the summer of 1978, a Gallup Poll showed that Democratspreferred Kennedy over President Carter 54 percent to 32 percent. Ayear later, Kennedy decided to run for the White House with acampaign that accused Carter of turning his back on the Democraticagenda. The difficult task of dislodging a sitting president wascompounded by Kennedy's fumbling answer to a question posed by CBS'Roger Mudd: Why do you want to be president? "Well, it's um, you know you have to come to grips with thedifferent issues that, ah, we're facing," Kennedy said. "I mean,we can, we have to deal with each of the various questions of theeconomy, whether it's in the area of energy ..." Long afterward, he said, "Well, I learned to lose, and for aKennedy that's hard." Kennedy married Virginia Joan Bennett, knownas Joan, in 1958. They divorced in 1982. In 1992, he marriedWashington lawyer Victoria Reggie. His survivors include adaughter, Kara Kennedy Allen; two sons, Edward Jr. and Patrick, acongressman from Rhode Island; and two stepchildren, Caroline andCurran Raclin. Edward Jr. lost a leg to bone cancer in 1973 at age 12. Kara hada cancerous tumor removed from her lung in 2003. In 1988, Patrickhad a noncancerous tumor pressing on his spine removed. He has alsostruggled with depression and addiction and announced in June thathe was re-entering rehab. Kennedy's memoir, "True Compass," is set to be published inthe fall.

advertisement | advertise on News 12

Trending Video

A former corrections officer faces 45 years in 1 Former corrections officer found guilty in deadly 2014 car wreck
2 Connecticut Sportscast, Dec. 9
Local police departments are warning residents to be 3 Fairfield police warn to be wary of thieves stealing packages
About 500 volunteers helped at Saturday's event. 4 Volunteers wrap thousands of gifts for children in need
Police say 48-year-old Fred Busk was charged with 5 Westport dad accused of serving teens alcohol at his home

advertisement | advertise on News 12

Features

Focus on Connecticut Focus on Connecticut

Features local, state and federal officials discussing the issues around southwestern Connecticut.

Celebrates African-American culture in southwestern Connecticut. Our Lives

Celebrates African-American culture in southwestern Connecticut.

Each week News 12 Connecticut introduces you to Hometown Hero

News 12 highlights people who give to the community.

We spotlight a local team each week. Connecticut Team of the Week

Each week News 12 Connecticut highlights a team from a local school.

Sorry to interrupt...

Your first 5 are free

Access to News12 is free for Optimum, Comcast®, Time Warner® and Service Electric℠ video customers.

Please enjoy 5 complimentary views to articles, photos, and videos during the next 30 days.

LOGIN SUBSCRIBE