US senator John McCain—a celebrated war hero and former GOP presidential candidate—has died of brain cancer, at age 81. He was diagnosed just over a year ago, and has struggled with related health problems ever since.
As Quartz’s Heather Timmons wrote upon his diagnosis, McCain’s absence during treatment was felt in Washington, where his tradition of service, reassurance to US allies overseas, and push for less ugly politics distinguished him in recent years.
McCain was a politician widely respected by both sides of the congressional aisle, known for his “maverick” style and often going against the Republican Party grain. McCain was elected to the House of Representatives in 1982, before beginning his tenure in the US Senate, where he was re-elected by the state of Arizona five times. McCain lost the GOP’s nomination in 2000 to George W. Bush, before winning the bid in 2008 to run against Barack Obama. He chose Sarah Palin as his running mate in that election—a choice that some, including Obama, have connected to the shift in the Republican party that set the stage for the deeply divided country we see today.
Still, when rallies during his campaign threatened to heat up with the sort of racism and vitriol that permeate politics today, McCain fought to keep the discourse civil. When one supporter said she did not trust Obama because he was an “Arab,” McCain took the microphone:
“No, ma’am,” he said. “He’s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.”
The senator’s often scathing views of current president Donald Trump focused lately on his relationship with Vladimir Putin, writing “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”
Before his career in politics, McCain—the son and grandson of admirals—served more than 20 years in the US Navy. Nearly six of those were spent in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp, where he was brutally tortured and kept in solitary confinement.
The New York Times reports that even before his days at the Naval Academy, as a student at an all-boys boarding school in Virginia, McCain was something of a maverick:
“The scion of one of the Navy’s most illustrious families was defiant and unruly. He mocked the dress code by wearing dirty bluejeans. His shoes were held together with tape, and his coat looked like a reject from the Salvation Army. He was cocky and combative, easily provoked and ready to fight anyone. Classmates called him McNasty.”
Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, is required by law to select McCain’s replacement from among the late senator’s party to serve until the end of that seat’s term in 2020. He’s stayed mum on the subject so far.