Ted Stevens, who died in a plane crash in southwest Alaska after surviving one 32 years ago, was the Republican Party's longest-serving senator in a controversial career that spanned from President Nixon and Vietnam to President Obama and Afghanistan.
Stevens, 86, was one of five passengers killed when a single-engine otter plane crashed near Dillingham, Alaska, Monday night.
Stevens is survived by his wife, Catherine, and six children.
One of the longest-serving senators in U.S. history, Stevens left Washington in January 2009 after losing his re-election bid amidst charges of corruption and ethics violations. Stevens was found guilty of failing to report gifts that he received as a senator but the charges were dropped by Attorney General Eric Holder, who cited serious prosecutorial misconduct during the trial.
Statements of praise flowed in today for the man who often found himself at odds with his own party.
"A decorated World War II veteran, Senator Ted Stevens devoted his career to serving the people of Alaska and fighting for our men and women in uniform," President Obama said in a statement. "Michelle and I extend our condolences to the entire Stevens family and to the families of those who perished alongside Senator Stevens in this terrible accident."
Former President George H.W. Bush remembered Stevens as a "respected friend" who "loved the Senate."
"Ted Stevens loved the Senate; he loved Alaska; and he loved his family -- and he will be dearly missed," Bush said in a statement.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin also offered her condolences, writing on facebook, "In our land of towering mountains and larger than life characters, none were larger than the man who in 2000 was voted 'Alaskan of the Century.' This decorated World War II pilot was a warrior and a true champion of Alaska."
"The thought of losing Ted Stevens, a man who was known to business and community leaders, Native chiefs and everyday Alaskans as 'Uncle Ted,' is too difficult to fathom," Alaska's Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, said in a statement. "The love and respect that Alaskans of all persuasions feel toward Ted Stevens is on a par with what the American people felt towards leaders such as John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ronald Reagan."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., hailed Stevens' career as a World War II veteran.
"As the longest serving Republican Senator in history, he lived a life of incredible accomplishment," Graham said in a statement today. "He will be greatly missed."
Stevens started his political career as a federal prosecutor in Alaska but always had his sights set on a national seat. He first came to Washington, D.C. to work for the Department of Interior, where he was a key figure in the fight for Alaska's statehood. After Alaska became a state in 1959, Stevens ran for the Senate seat in 1962, but lost.
He won a seat in the Alaska House of Representatives in 1964, and became the majority leader in his second term.
His second attempt at the U.S. Senate seat in 1968 was also unsuccessful, but the former Air Force lieutenant's moment came later that year, when Democratic Sen. E.L. "Bob" Bartlett died and Alaska's Republican Gov. Walter J. Hickel chose Stevens to fill the seat.