Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press
HYANNIS PORT, Mass. — Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, last surviving brother in an American political dynasty and one of the most influential senators in history, died 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 legislative achievements on health care, civil rights, education, immigration and more.
Speaking briefly to reporters at his rented vacation home on Martha's Vineyard, Mass., President Barack Obama called Kennedy one of the "most accomplished Americans" in history — and a man whose work in Congress helped give new opportunities to millions.
"Including myself," added the nation's first black president, who ordered government flags lowered to half-staff.
Kennedy, who died Tuesday night, will be buried Saturday at Arlington National Cemetery after a funeral Mass in Boston. Before that, he is to lie in repose at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.
Also buried at Arlington, just across the Potomac River from Washington, are two Kennedy brothers, the president and former Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, as well as John Kennedy's wife, Jacqueline, their baby son, Patrick, who died after two days, and their stillborn child.
Edward Kennedy's only run for the White House ended in defeat in 1980, when he unsuccessfully challenged President Jimmy Carter, a fellow Democrat, who was seeking renomination. More than a quarter-century later, Kennedy handed then-Sen. Obama an endorsement at a critical point in the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, explicitly likening the young contender to President Kennedy.
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 the car he was driving plunged off a bridge, killing a young woman passenger.
Kennedy's death triggered an outpouring of superlatives from Democrats and Republicans as well as foreign leaders.
Vice President Joe Biden said that in the Senate Kennedy had restored his "sense of idealism."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, the conservative Republican from Utah who formed a political alliance with Kennedy on some health-related issues, called Kennedy "an iconic, larger-than-life" senator with outsize influence. "You couldn't help but like him, but on the other hand the fights were real and they were knockdown, drag-out battles. But that's the way it should be," Hatch told reporters in Salt Lake City. "We were like fighting brothers."
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 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."
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.
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