As Mr. Carter's chief of staff, Jordan, who died Tuesday, exercised his gift for strategy on a global scale. He was closely involved in the Camp David talks and efforts to end the Iranian hostage crisis.
Jordan, 63, died at his home in Atlanta, said Gerald Rafshoon, who was Mr. Carter's chief of communications.
"He was a great strategist. He just couldn't strategize his way out of this," Rafshoon said from his home in Washington.
Jordan's fight with cancer began 22 years ago, when he was diagnosed with lymphoma, followed by bouts with melanoma and prostate cancer.
Rafshoon said a memorial service was planned Friday at The Carter Center in Atlanta and Mr. Carter would attend.
Mr. Carter said in a news release that he and his wife, Rosalynn, "are deeply saddened."
"Hamilton was my closest political adviser, a trusted confidant and my friend. His judgment, insight and wisdom were excelled only by his compassion and love of our country."
President Bush said he was saddened by Jordan's death.
"Hamilton played an important role in shaping our nation's policies. We value his service to our country," he said in a statement. "Hamilton Jordan was also a great community leader, using lessons learned during his personal struggle against cancer to encourage other cancer survivors to remain optimistic and embrace the blessings of each day."
U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., issued a statement calling Jordan "a brilliant political strategist" who engineered Mr. Carter's election.
"When others said it would not be done, it could not be done, Hamilton Jordan made it happen," Lewis said.
"He made a lasting contribution to national politics," Lewis said. "He will be deeply missed."
Jordan was born in Charlotte, N.C., in 1944 and raised in Albany, Ga. He graduated from the University of Georgia with a political science degree in 1967.
Rafshoon said Jordan was a key figure in Mr. Carter's 1976 presidential campaign.
"Iowa had gotten into the headlines in the 1972 campaign but Hamilton spotted the fact if you win Iowa, you could win New Hampshire and a truly unknown candidate had to have a national strategy," Rafshoon said.
During Mr. Carter's administration, Jordan participated in the 1978 talks leading to the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel. He also "worked tirelessly" during the Iranian hostage crisis, Rafshoon said.
Jordan viewed Mr. Carter as "the right man for the times, after Watergate, Vietnam. He saw somebody not from Washington, not in Congress, not tarred from the sins of the past and understood American people better than anybody in that campaign," Rafshoon said.
In those White House years, the then-divorced Jordan developed a playboy image, with allegations that he spit amaretto and cream at a woman in a bar and made salacious comments about the bosom of the Egyptian ambassador's wife. Jordan denied those claims.
A federal grand jury dismissed allegations that he had used cocaine at a New York disco.
After Mr. Carter was defeated by Ronald Reagan in 1980, Jordan ran in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in 1986. He lost to Wyche Fowler, who won the general election.
Jordan worked for H. Ross Perot's presidential bid in 1992.
Later he worked with Unity08, an independent political group founded by independent Angus King, the former governor of Maine, along with Rafshoon and Doug Bailey, a former staffer on President Ford's 1976 campaign.
Jordan told the Atlanta Press Club in March that he was a fan of Barack Obama in his race for the Democratic nomination. Jordan visited the club to discuss his fight with cancer.
"I've been to the edge of life and had to face my own mortality," he said. "I'm here to tell you, I'm not through yet. We've been blessed with great medicine and great friends."
Rafshoon said Jordan had fought his bouts with cancer successfully but recently "had a series of things that shut down his systems." He said Jordan's doctor would describe the medical complications on Wednesday.
"I talked to him many times during the past few weeks," he said. "He was enjoying watching the latest presidential campaign."
Jordan is survived by his wife, Dorothy, and their three children.
By Walter Putnam