Sen. Edward Kennedy, the indefatigable liberal icon whose 47 years in the Senate were often overshadowed by his twin roles as keeper and casualty of the Camelot myth, died late Tuesday night after a long battle with brain cancer. He was 77, and passed away at the famed Kennedy family compound in Hyannis Port, Mass.
"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," the heartbroken Kennedy family said in a statement.
"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."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, "We have lost our patriarch."
"Maria and I are immensely saddened by the passing of Uncle Teddy," said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose wife, Maria Shriver, is the late Senator's niece.
"Teddy inspired our country through his dedication to health care reform, his commitment to social justice, and his devotion to a life of public service."
Kennedy was diagnosed in May 2008 with a malignant brain tumor, discovered after he suffered a seizure at the Hyannis Port compound.
Doctors initially said the cancer could kill Kennedy within a year. But the tough old Democrat fought bravely to outlast the grim prognosis.
His large family took advantage of the extra time.
"It let us have the chance to tell him how much we love him," said his son Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) "and him to be there to hear it."
Kennedy was largely absent from Washington after the diagnosis.
Rumors of his deteriorating condition heated up when Kennedy missed three big August events: His sister Eunice's funeral, the confirmation vote for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, and the ceremony where he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Kennedy's low profile over his last month was a dramatic contrast with his tumultuous life.
Thrust into the role of family patriarch by the assassinations of his two brothers, the star-crossed Kennedy endured a heartrending series of tragedies - several of them self-inflicted.
The Massachusetts Democrat never fully escaped the taint of Mary Jo Kopechne and Chappaquiddick. He struggled with alcohol, and suffered through the untimely deaths of nephews David by drug overdose, Michael in a skiing accident and JFK Jr. in a plane crash.
He never reached the White House, absorbing a stinging defeat in his 1980 challenge to incumbent Jimmy Carter. Critics said he lacked his brother John's intellect and his brother Bobby's passion