Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy has died at age 77 after a battle with brain cancer. The Kennedy family confirmed his death in a statement Wednesday morning that reads, "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." President Barack Obama called Kennedy a "great leader who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States senator of our time."
"For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts," Obama's statement reads, and Senate majority leader Harry Reid added that both the Senate and the Kennedy family has "lost our patriarch."
Kennedy was diagnosed with a brain tumor in May 2008 and has been undergoing treatment that kept him mostly away from Washington in recent months, though he returned to Capitol Hill to vote on a crucial Medicare bill and gave a stirring speech at the Democratic National Convention at which Obama was formally nominated. He entered the Senate in 1962 and served 46 years (only Robert Byrd and Strom Thurmond logged more years there) during which he cemented his reputation as a crusader for social policy.