Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the last surviving brother in an enduring political dynasty and one of the most influential senators in history, died Tuesday night at his home on Cape Cod after a yearlong struggle with brain cancer. He was 77.
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.
In a brief statement to reporters at his rented vacation home on Martha's Vineyard, Mass., President Barack Obama eulogized Kennedy as one of the "most accomplished Americans" in history - and a man whose work in Congress helped give millions new opportunities.
"Including myself," added the nation's first black president.
CBS News has learned that. At the eternal flame rests four Kennedy family members, including the former president, Jacqueline Kennedy, their baby son, Patrick, who died after two days, and a still-born child. Former Sen. Robert Kennedy F. Kennedy is buried a short distance away.
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The Senate desk that was used by Kennedy - and earlier by his brother John - is now covered by a black shroud, and a vase of white roses. Outside, flags are at half staff.
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.
CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer said Kennedy earned the respect during his long career of both his Democratic allies and his Republican opponents in Congress.
"I don't think we will ever see that kind of person again in the United States Senate. He was from another time," Schieffer told Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith, citing Kennedy's ability to reach across the political aisle despite his popular label as a poster-boy for liberalism and big government.
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.
Kennedy's death triggered an outpouring of superlatives from Democrats and Republicans as well as foreign leaders.
Vice President Joe Biden said he was "truly, truly distressed by his passing" and said that in the Senate, Kennedy had restored his "sense of idealism."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, the conservative Republican from Utah, called Kennedy "an iconic, larger than life United States 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 heart and soul weeps at the lost of my best friend in the Senate, my beloved friend, Ted Kennedy."
Kennedy's family announced his death in a brief statement released early Wednesday.
"We've lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever," it said. "We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all."
A few hours later, two vans left the famed Kennedy compound at Hyannis 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 all federal buildings.
In his later years, Kennedy cut a barrel-chested profile, with a swath of white hair, a booming voice and a thick, widely imitated Boston accent. He coupled fist-pumping floor speeches with his well-honed Irish charm and formidable negotiating skills. He was both a passionate liberal and a clear-eyed pragmatist, willing to reach across the aisle.
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.
CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric reports that an interview with former CBS News correspondent Roger Mudd, during which Kennedy waffled in response to a question on why he wanted to be president, probably damaged his chances of winning the Democratic nomination just as much as the Chappaquiddick fallout.
Kennedy - known to family, friends and foes simply as Ted - ended his quest for the presidency in 1980 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."
in May 2008 and underwent surgery and a grueling regimen of radiation and chemotherapy.
He made a surprise return to the Capitol last summer to cast the decisive vote for the Democrats on Medicare. He made sure he was there again last January to see his former Senate colleague Barack Obama sworn in as the nation's first black president, but suffered a seizure at a celebratory luncheon afterward.
He also 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.
He was away from the Senate for much of this year, leaving Republicans and Democrats to speculate about the impact what his absence meant for the fate of Obama's health care proposals.
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. But that appears unlikely, even though Patrick said Wednesday in radio interviews that he would sign such a bill if it reached his desk. The vacancy leaves Democrats in Washington with one less vote for at least the next several months as they struggle to pass Obama's health care legislation.