After he was diagnosed with cancer in May 2008, Kennedy was sidelined in congressional debates on health care overhaul, but, on July 9, 2008, he made a dramatic return and one of his final appearances on the Senate floor. He arrived to applause and cast one of the 69 votes to break a Republican filibuster against a bill that blocked cuts in Medicare payments to doctors. Days later, then-President George W. Bush's attempt to veto the bill was overridden.
Even though he was not able to attend health care hearings on Capitol Hill because of his medical treatment Kennedy led efforts to create a sweeping overhaul of the health care bill in the Senate and to lobby the White House on new legislation. In his absence, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut took the helm of the Senate Democrats' effort to create a health care bill.
"For four decades I have carried this cause -- from the floor of the United States Senate to every part of this country. It has never been merely a question of policy; it goes to the heart of my belief in a just society. Now the issue has more meaning for me -- and more urgency -- than ever before. But it's always been deeply personal, because the importance of health care has been a recurrent lesson throughout most of my 77 years," Kennedy wrote in a July Newsweek editorial he penned with longtime friend and speechwriter Robert Shrum.
Even though his presidential dreams were shattered when a controversial car accident -- in which he was the driver -- led to the death of a 28-year-old woman, Kennedy became an influential liberal voice in the Senate. But he was also known for his bipartisan work on legislation such as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
"One of the things he's been extraordinarily skillful at is his ability to work across the aisle," Culver said. "It's remarkable with Ted Kennedy being recognized as such an intense partisan figure, but how effectively he can work with the other party in the Senate, and have their respect."
First elected to represent Massachusetts in the Senate at age 30, Kennedy's commitment to a liberal legislative agenda -- pushing bills on health care and labor laws -- made him a powerful force in the Democratic Party, especially during his primary battle with Jimmy Carter in 1980 and arguments against Bill Clinton's centrist leanings in the 1990s.
"In the four areas that Kennedy has dominated... health care, in education, civil rights, immigration," Boston Globe reporter Peter Canellos said. "He has fundamentally changed the relationship between the government and individuals in that arena."
Here's a closer look at some of the other issues Kennedy heralded:
Kennedy's brother, President John F. Kennedy, introduced the Civil Rights Bill in June of 1963, only months after Ted Kennedy joined the Senate in November 1962. During a speech, President Kennedy asked Congress to "enact legislation giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public -- hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores and similar establishments."