U.S. Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy died on Tuesday night after a lengthy battle with brain cancer at his home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts at age 77.
"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," his family said in a statement.
One of the most influential and longest serving senators in U.S. history, Kennedy was diagnosed with brain cancer in May 2008. A funeral mass will be held in Boston on Saturday. He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery just a few feet from the graves of his brothers, former President John F. Kennedy and former Senator Robert Kennedy.
President Obama said on Wednesday that he was "heartbroken" after hearing of the death of a friend and key backer of his campaign. Kennedy’s endorsement last year was seen as pivotal in his victory.
Edward Kennedy's death marks the possible end to the family's political dynasty and dealt a blow to the Democrats, who lost one of their key backers of President Obama's proposed overhaul of the heath care system.
Known as the "Lion of the Senate," Kennedy was a towering figure in the Democratic Party and major player in civil and voting rights, as well as health care reform. He was one of six senators in U.S. history to have served more than 40 years.
"The Kennedy name is synonymous with the Democratic Party, and at times Ted was the target of partisan campaign attacks. But in the United States Senate I can think of no one who engendered greater respect or affection," Obama said.
Born in Boston on February 22, 1932, Edward Moore Kennedy was the last of nine children. The family was plagued by tragedies.
His oldest brother Joe Jr., died in a plane crash during World War II. His brother, former President John Kennedy, was assassinated in 1963. Robert Kennedy was killed the night of the California primary in 1968. His sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics, died on August 11, 2009.
Kennedy entered the political arena in 1962, when he was elected to finish the unexpired term of his brother John Kennedy, who became president in 1961. He was considered a political lightweight who gained prominence due to his famous family name.
After his election to a full term in 1964, Kennedy was looking forward to a bright political future. However, a car accident in July 1969 nearly ended his ambitions.
After a night of partying, Kennedy drove his car off Chappaquiddick, off Cape Cod and across a narrow channel from Martha's Vineyard. Kennedy managed to escape. However, his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned.
Kennedy did not report the accident to police. He later pleaded guilty to leaving the scene and received a suspended sentence.
Despite his tarnished reputation, Kennedy remained influential and went on to win seven more terms in the Senate. A champion of social causes, he served as chairman of the Judiciary and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committees and was the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary and Armed Services committees when Republicans controlled the chamber.
Most recently, Obama awarded Kennedy the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
During his half century in the chamber, Kennedy was known as one of Washington’s best senators and for his ability to work with both parties. He was said by Senator John McCain to be "the single most effective member of the Senate if you want to get results."
"His ideas and ideals are stamped on scores of laws and reflected on millions of lives … in all who can pursue their dreams in an America that is more equal and more just, including myself," Obama said.
He was "not only one of the greatest senators of our time, but one of the most accomplished Americans ever to serve our democracy," Obama said.
"I cherished his confidence and momentous support in my race for the presidency," said Obama. "And even as he waged a valiant struggle with a mortal illness, I've profited as president from his encouragement and wisdom."
Kennedy is survived by his second wife Victoria Ann Reggie Kennedy whom he married in 1992 his first wife, Joan Bennett; and children Patrick, Kara and, Edward Jr. from his first marriage, and Curran and Caroline Raclin from his second.