John Tower fought hard to become secretary of defense but took a pounding in large part because his peers felt he had troubling human weaknesses.

A dapper, diminutive 63-year-old who enjoyed after-hours socializing in a town full of watchful eyes and wagging tongues, Tower admitted he drank too much in the 1970s and touched off a roaring debate as to whether he was now fit to run America's war machine.The confirmation debate on Tower, an acknowledged defense expert, turned into a months-long ordeal that might have forced many men to throw in the towel.

Charges of alcohol-abuse were compounded by talk of womanizing and - even more troubling to some senators - claims he was too closely tied to defense contractors for whom he had been a highly paid consultant in recent years.

To no avail were Tower's extraordinary pledge to swear off drink if confirmed and his angry assertion the Democratic-led Senate was only using his nomination to weaken President Bush.

Through it all, Tower stood firm and lived up to his old Senate reputation of being a man who stands up to opponents with fists doubled. And Bush, his old friend, political comrade and fellow Texan, stood with him until the last.

Tower ran a tight ship as chairman of the Armed Services Committee from 1981 to 1985 during the last four years of his 24-year Senate service. He was known as a hard-driving and uncompromising autocratic. He also made enemies.

When Ronald Reagan came into office in 1981 vowing to build up U.S. military might, Tower, as committee chairman in a Republican-controlled Senate, was an ally who shepherded through huge increases in weapons spending.

Many thought he would become Reagan's defense secretary. But Reagan did not turn to him until 1985 when he named Tower strategic arms negotiator with the Soviet Union and then, in late 1986, appointed him to head a three-man board of inquiry into the then-unravelling Iran-Contra scandal.

By all accounts he filled both jobs with distinction. His uncompromising February 1987 report on the scandal, blasting White House operations and implicitly criticizing Reagan's relaxed governing style, was praised as honest and objective.