But on January 20, the soft-spoken former Wyoming congressman will take on his most important role yet when he's sworn in as George W. Bush's vice president. And given the current political gridlock in the nation's capital, Cheney's new position will have an especially high profile, since he will be able to cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate, which will be evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.
Born in Lincoln, Nebraska on January 30, 1941, Cheney attended Yale University but took his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in political science from the University of Wyoming. In 1963, he was an intern at the Wisconsin legislature. In 1966 he served as a staff aide to Wisconsin Governor Warren Knowles.
As a congressional fellow in 1968, he came to Washington and joined the staff of U.S. Representative William A. Steiger, a Wisconsin Republican.
He began his government work as an assistant to Office of Economic Opportunity director Donald Rumsfeld, then became a staff assistant in the Nixon White House in 1971. He soon moved to the Cost of Living Council before leaving for a job at the investment firm Bradley, Woods and Company in 1973.
President Gerald Ford brought him back to the White House as a deputy assistant in 1974, which had him working under then-chief of staff Rumsfeld. He succeeded Rumsfeld in 1975 and served as chief of staff until Ford left the White House in 1977. Cheney was a key player in the White House transitions in 1974 and 1977, and in Ford's failed effort to win re-election.
In 1978, Cheney was elected to the first of five terms in Congress from Wyoming. In 1988 he was elected a sixth time and was chosen as a party whip for the 101st Congress before incoming President George Bush picked him to be secretary of defense after John Tower's nomination failed.
According to the official Defense Department history of his term, Cheney opted to concentrate on "external affairs" rather than on managing day to day operations at the Pentagon.
His biggest administrative task, at President Bush's direction, was cutting the defense budget. Cheney sometimes complained that Congress had approved weapons systems the Pentagon didn't want.
His toughest political decision may have been his choice to leave Pentagon regulations on homosexuals in the military as they were, providing Arkansas Gov. and Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton with an issue to use in the 1992 campaign.
Cheney oversaw the U.S. military during the first years of the post-Cold War era, and several of the crises he faced reflected the changing global environment. Cheney was instrumental in planning the December 1989 Panama invasion that unseated Gen. Manuel Noriega and Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm of 1990-1991.
In Jue 1991, President Bush awarded Cheney the Presidential Medal of Freedom for "preserving America's defenses at a time of great change around the world."
Cheney opposed, however, using U.S. troops in Bosnia.
After leaving the Pentagon, Cheney took work as a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank, before becoming CEO in October 1995 of the Dallas, Texas-based Halliburton Company, which provides services to the oil industry.
He has served on the boards of directors of the Union Pacific Company, Electronic Data Services, and Procter & Gamble, as well as on an oil advisory board for the country of Kazakhstan.
According to FEC records, Cheney and his wife gave over $30,000 in political contributions to federal candidates between 1997 and 2000.
Cheney was tapped to head George W. Bush's vice presidential search team last spring, but ended up being chosen for the job himself. He has also been running the Bush transition office, managing personnel and logistics planning for the incoming administration.
The vice president-elect has endured a long history of health problems, including what doctors called a mild heart attack on Nov. 22. He suffered three previous heart attacks more than a decade ago and underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 1988 to clear clogged arteries.
Dick Cheney is married to Lynne V. Cheney, the former chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. She is currently an American Enterprise Institute scholar on education and culture. An author of three books, she writes and speaks widely as an expert on education matters.
The couple has two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary.