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March 2009: Kennedy receives a standing ovation from President Obama and others as he arrives at the White House's forum on health care reform.
March 2009: Kennedy receives a standing ovation from President Obama and others as he arrives at the White House's forum on health care reform. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
From across the political spectrum and around the world, condolences poured in Wednesday after the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who President Obama described as "one of the most accomplished Americans to serve our democracy."
The man referred to most frequently as Ted waged a protracted battle with brain cancer before his death on Tuesday night at 77. He was the last of three Kennedy brothers to die in the midst of public service.
The Kennedy family mourned the loss of "the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives."
"He always believed that our best days were still ahead, but it's hard to imagine any of them without him," the family said in a statement.
Obama, vacationing on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, said he had had the "honor to call Teddy a colleague, a counselor and a friend."
The senator's "ideas and ideals are stamped on scores of laws and millions of lives," the president said. He helped make it possible for people to "pursue their dream in an America that is more equal and more just," he said, adding, "including myself."
Timeline: A Life Of Service
Kennedy Family Photograph Collection
"The extraordinary good that he did lives on," he said.
Later Wednesday, the White House ordered U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff at all federal buildings and military posts until sunset Sunday.
A visibly shaken Vice President Biden, a longtime Senate colleague of Kennedy, said he was "truly, truly distressed" by his death.
Sen. John Kerry, Kennedy's junior colleague in Massachusetts, lauded his friend for his battle against cancer — diagnosed in May of last year — and for his unwavering commitment to the cause of national health care, which Kennedy described in a speech last year before the Democratic National Convention as "the cause of my life".
Kerry said of Kennedy that he "taught us how to fight, how to laugh, how to treat each other, and how to turn idealism into action.
"And in these last 14 months, he taught us much more about how to live life, sailing into the wind one last time," he said of the avid yachtsman.
Hatch composed lyrics for 'Headed Home' after Kennedy was diagnosed with brain cancer. The song is performed by Tony Middleton.
Close friend and Senate colleague Christopher Dodd (D-CT) said that for "decades to come, history will talk about his legislative accomplishments and the difference he made in public policy."
The Senate's top Democrat, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), called Kennedy the "patriarch" of the party and said it was "the thrill of my lifetime" to have worked with him. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said "no one has done more than Sen. Kennedy to educate our children, care for our seniors, and ensure equality for all Americans."
The battle with cancer may have been his last great fight, but Kennedy was no stranger to adversity. He was forced to deal with the assassinations of two of his brothers — President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. The next year, he was returning from a party when his car plunged off a bridge on the Massachusetts resort island of Chappaquiddick. His passenger, a young campaign worker named Mary Jo Kopechne, was drowned. Kennedy's image was permanently damaged by the incident after it emerged that he had failed to report the accident to authorities. He pleaded guilty to leaving the scene and received a suspended sentence.
Eventually, Kennedy followed the presidential trail trod first by his brothers. He sought the Democratic nomination in 1980 but lost to then-President Jimmy Carter in a bitter contest that split the party.
Carter on Wednesday said of Kennedy that the "courage and dignity he exhibited in his fight with cancer was surpassed only by his lifelong commitment and service to his country."
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January 2008: Then-presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama confers with Kennedy before the State of the Union speech by President Bush.
January 2008: Then-presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama confers with Kennedy before the State of the Union speech by President Bush. Win McNamee/Getty Images
Despite losing the nomination to Carter, Kennedy continued as a powerful presence in the Senate. Often described as a "liberal lion" and a Democrat's Democrat, he nonetheless won friends among those who admired his force of vision even if they did not agree with his views. Kennedy also was valued for a pragmatism that allowed him to step across the political divide.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said: "Ted Kennedy, with all of his ideological verbosity and idealism, was a rare person who at times could put aside differences and look for common solutions."
One of the first voices of sympathy after the announcement of his death came from former first lady Nancy Reagan, whose husband led a political counter-revolution against the liberal ideas represented by the Kennedys.
"Given our political differences, people are sometimes surprised by how close Ronnie and I have been to the Kennedy family," Reagan said.
"Ronnie and Ted could always find common ground, and they had great respect for one another," she said. "In recent years, Ted and I found our common ground in stem cell research, and I considered him an ally and a dear friend."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a 2008 GOP presidential contender, recalled losing to Kennedy in a 1994 Senate race, when he "joined a long list of those who ran against Ted and came up short."
Nonetheless, the two teamed up in 2006 to help pass a universal health insurance law in Massachusetts.
Condolences came in from around the world, as well. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that "even facing illness and death, he never stopped fighting for the causes which were his life's work." Britain gave Kennedy an honorary knighthood earlier this year.
In Australia, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says Kennedy "made an extraordinary contribution to American politics, an extraordinary contribution to America's role in the world."
Kennedy's body will in repose at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum on Thursday and Friday. The library will be open to the public from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday. A private memorial service will be held Friday evening.
The funeral will be held at Boston's Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica on Saturday, but the time has not been set. The senator prayed at the basilica every day when his daughter, Kara, was battling lung cancer at a nearby hospital.
"Over time, the Basilica took on special meaning for him as a place of hope and optimism," the family said in a statement.
Kennedy will be buried near his brothers at Arlington National Ceremony, following a private service scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday.