Like Obama, Kennedy was a master orator. But the words that live for the ages seem to be those he uttered in tragedy or defeat.
Older Americans remember his eulogy of Robert Kennedy, when he asked history not to idealize his brother but remember him "simply as a good and decent man who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it."
Remembered, too, is his speech conceding the 1980 Democratic presidential nomination to the incumbent Jimmy Carter. "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," he said.
By then, his hopes of reaching the White House had been damaged by his behavior a decade earlier in the scandal known as Chappaquiddick.
On the night of July 18, 1969, Kennedy drove his car off a bridge and into a pond on Chappaquiddick Island, on Martha's Vineyard, and swam to safety while companion Mary Jo Kopechne drowned in the car. He pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident; a judge said his actions probably contributed to the young woman's death. He received a suspended sentence and probation.
Kennedy's legislative legacy includes health insurance for children of the working poor, the landmark 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, family leave and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. He was also key to passage of the No Child Left Behind education law and a Medicare drug benefit for the elderly, both championed by Republican President George W. Bush.
In the Senate, Republicans respected and often befriended him. But his essential liberalism marked him as a lightning rod, too. He proved a handy fundraising foil, motivating Republicans to open their wallets to fight anything he stood for.
In 1980, Kennedy's task of dislodging a president of his own party was compounded by his fumbling answer to a question posed by CBS' Roger Mudd: Why do you want to be president?
"Well, I'm, uh, were I to, to make the, the announcement, to run, the reasons that I would run is because I have a great belief in this country," he began.
It's a question that all savvy politicians ever since make sure won't catch them unprepared.
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 charm and formidable negotiating skills.
"I think that once he realized he was never going to be president — that that was not the legacy he had to follow — he really worked at becoming the best senator he possibly could," Leahy said. "And he did."
He was first elected to the Senate in 1962, taking the seat that his brother John had occupied before winning the White House, and he served longer than all but two senators in history.
Kennedy was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor 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 a decisive vote for the Democrats on Medicare. He made sure he was there again in January to see his former Senate colleague sworn in as president but suffered a seizure at a celebratory luncheon afterward.
His survivors include a daughter, Kara Kennedy Allen; two sons, Edward Jr. and Patrick, a congressman from Rhode Island, and two stepchildren, Caroline and Curran Raclin.
Edward Jr. lost a leg to bone cancer in 1973 at age 12. Kara had a cancerous tumor removed from her lung in 2003. In 1988, Patrick had a non-cancerous tumor pressing on his spine removed. He also has struggled with depression and addiction and recently spent time at an addiction treatment center.
Contributing: Laurie Kellman and Bob Salsberg
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