Richard Holbrooke, Famed U.S. Diplomat, Dies

Updated at 11:59 p.m. ET

Richard Holbrooke, one of the nation's top diplomats, has died at the age of 69.

The lifelong diplomat known to some as "The Bulldozer" for his persistent negotiating style passed Monday following complications from emergency heart surgery at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C.

CBS News State Department reporter Charles Wolfson says Holbrooke was well known for his ability to get the job done no matter the circumstances and to never shy away from the toughest diplomatic assignments.

Charles Wolfson on Richard Holbrooke
More on Holbrooke's Medical Problem

Holbrooke's career saw him posted to such challenging assignments as Vietnam, the Balkans and Afghanistan, almost always shortly after a major conflict. He also authored part of the Pentagon papers and was most recently President Obama's special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Holbrooke was said to like the tough challenge. For more than one president, if something needed to get done, Richard Holbrooke's name was always at the top of the list, Wolfson reports. Not everyone he worked for liked him but they all respected his ability to get the job done.

Holbrooke had received telephone calls from the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan as he recovered from emergency surgery, correcting a tear in the large artery that moves blood from his heart, the Associated Press reports.

The president's diplomatic point man on the Afghanistan war, Holbrooke was stricken Friday while at the State Department and was rushed to the hospital, where he underwent more than 20 hours of surgery to repair the tear and bleeding in his aorta.

The State Department said Sunday that he received calls from Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, the AP reports. As President Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the longtime diplomat has made numerous visits to the region.

Holbrooke was meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton about midmorning Friday when he fell ill, collapsed and was rushed to the hospital a few blocks away, the AP reports.

Holbrooke, with his long-standing ties to Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, was a strong supporter of her 2008 bid for the White House. He had been considered a favorite to become secretary of state if she had won. When she dropped out, he began reaching out to Mr. Obama's campaign.

"Richard Holbrooke saved lives, secured peace and restored hope for countless people around the world," Bill Clinton said in a statement late Monday.

Reflecting on his role as Obama's special envoy, Holbrooke wrote in The Washington Post in March 2008 that "the conflict in Afghanistan will be far more costly and much, much longer than Americans realize. This war, already in its seventh year, will eventually become the longest in American history, surpassing even Vietnam."

In a statement released by the White House, Mr. Obama said: "The progress that we have made in Afghanistan and Pakistan is due in no small measure to Richard's relentless focus on America's national interest, and pursuit of peace and security. He understood, in his life and his work, that our interests encompassed the values that we hold so dear."

Holbrooke's passing comes just days before the Obama administration is expected to roll out the results of its review of the Afghanistan war, on Thursday.

Holbrooke's absence could effect the administration's ability to put in place - and also sell to a skeptical Congress - its push for Afghan forces to assume a greater role in the fighting, allowing U.S. troops to come home. It is a transition in which Holbrooke was expected to play an important part.

The feisty and sometimes abrasive diplomat - whose forceful style earned him "The Bulldozer" nickname, along with "Raging Bull" - is perhaps best known for helping broker the Dayton accords, a 1995 agreement that ended the war in Bosnia.

He served as ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration. He also was ambassador to Germany from 1993 to 1994 and then assistant secretary of state for European affairs.

CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk says Holbrooke was best known at the U.N. for strong-arming American politicians, and enlisting the help of Ted Turner, to pay off a $1 billion U.S. debt to the world body. He also launched a lasting campaign to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa during his time as president of the Security Council.