Sen. Edward Kennedy could rally liberal Democrats with booming oratory and also quietly win over Republicans to pass some of the most important laws of the past half century.
Friends, colleagues and world leaders hailed him Wednesday for his intellect, passion for the underdog and ability to find common cause with opponents.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Kennedy was "at once the most partisan and the most constructive United States senator."
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said no other senator "has ever reached across party lines with as much efficacy, facility, and affability."
"A giant tree falls from the skyline," said former Republican senator Alan Simpson, who worked with Kennedy on an immigration bill in 1986. They appeared together for eight years on a radio show, Face-Off, and debated conservative and liberal points of view.
In Ireland, Kennedy was remembered for behind-the-scenes work toward a peace accord in Northern Ireland.
In Britain, which bestowed a knighthood on him this year, he was honored for tireless advocacy on issues such as health care. "Even facing illness and death, he never stopped fighting," Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.
For some, the ties were personal and poignant. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who is married to Kennedy's niece, Maria Shriver, called him "the rock of our family." The loss comes two weeks after the death of Kennedy's sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
Kennedy left his mark on almost every major piece of social legislation in his 47 years in the Senate, from a 1965 immigration bill that opened U.S. borders to Asians and Latin Americans to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act this year that makes it easier for women and others to sue for wage discrimination.
Schoolteachers, gay-rights groups, unions, advocates for people with disabilities and others claimed him as the unrivaled champion of their causes.
"Ted Kennedy was not just a senator for Massachusetts," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said. "He was our senator — a senator for working people, for poor people, for the old and the vulnerable."
Friends and colleagues said they would also remember him for his private acts of kindness.
Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., one of Kennedy's closest friends, said he was always first to call at crucial moments — the birth of Dodd's first child, the death of his sister. Earlier this month, within hours of Dodd's surgery for prostate cancer, Kennedy was on the phone "welcoming me to the cancer club," he said. "He just could make you laugh."
In 1984, as former Idaho senator Frank Church was dying of pancreatic cancer, Kennedy was a regular visitor.
Kennedy stopped at Church's home in Bethesda, Md., "every other day" for weeks to spend a few quiet moments at the bedside of his fellow Democrat, Church's widow, Bethine, recalled Wednesday in an interview from her home in Boise. She said Kennedy "had a compassion about people that was very real and very personal."
Contributing: John Fritze, Kathy Kiely and the Associated Press