Senator Ted Kennedy, the "Lion of the Senate," has died after a battle with brain cancer. He was 77.
President Obama paid tribute to his friend this morning, calling him a colleague, counselor, and friend who etched his place in history as a "singular figure" on the American political landscape.
"Even though we knew this day was coming, we awaited it with no small amount of dread," Obama said. "For his family, he was a guardian. For America, he was a defender of a dream."
Kennedy was the last surviving brother in an enduring political dynasty, and one of the most influential senators in history. 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.
Kennedy's 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, Kennedy 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.
He was first elected to the senate in 1962, taking the seat that his brother John had occupied before winning the White House, and served longer than all but two senators in history. His own hopes of reaching the White House were damaged -- perhaps doomed -- in 1969 by the scandal that came to be known as Chappaquiddick. He sought the White House more than a decade later, lost the Democratic nomination to President Jimmy Carter, and bowed out with a stirring valedictory that echoed across the decades: "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."
He made a surprise and forceful appearance at last summer's Democratic National Convention, where he spoke of his own illness, and said health care was the cause of his life. His death occurred precisely one year later, almost to the hour.
Under state law, Kennedy's successor will be chosen by special election. In his last known public act, the senator urged Massachusetts state legislators to give Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick the power to name an interim replacement.
His death came less than two weeks after that of his sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, on August 11. Kennedy was not present for the funeral, an indication of the precariousness of his own health. Of nine children born to Joseph and Rose Kennedy, only one -- Jean Kennedy Smith -- survives. Ted Kennedy was the only one of the four Kennedy brothers to die of natural causes.
Kennedy's eldest brother, Joseph, was killed in a plane crash in World War II. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down in Los Angeles as he campaigned for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination. Years later, in 1999, John F. Kennedy, Jr. was killed in a plane crash at age 38. His wife, Carolyn, died with him.
It fell to Ted Kennedy to deliver the eulogies, to comfort his brothers' widows, to mentor fatherless nieces and nephews. It was Ted Kennedy who walked JFK's daughter, Caroline, down the aisle at her wedding.
Kennedy married Virginia Joan Bennett, known as Joan, in 1958. They divorced in 1982. In 1992, he married Washington lawyer Victoria Reggie. His survivors include a daughter, Kara Kennedy Allen; two sons, Edward Jr. and Patrick, a congressman from Rhode Island; and two stepchildren, Caroline and Curran Raclin.
His son Edward Jr. lost a leg to bone cancer in 1973 at age 12. Kara had a cancerous tumor removed from her lung in 2003. In 1988, Patrick had a noncancerous tumor, which was pressing on his spine, removed. He has also struggled with depression and addiction, and announced in June that he was re-entering rehab.
Kennedy's memoir, "True Compass," is set to be published in the fall.
The Associated Press contributed to this post.