Ted Stevens, Longest-Serving Republican Senator, Dies in Plane Crash

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.

VIDEO: Ted Stevens Dies in Alaskan Plane CrashPlay

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."

pic of sen. ted stevens, republican from alaskaPlay

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."

VIDEO: Former Alaska Senator ted Stevens was involved in a fatal plane crash.Play
Ted Stevens Involved in Fatal Plane Crash

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.

The Harvard Law School graduate, known for his hot temper and outbursts on the Senate floor, gained considerable political power over the years and emerged as a leading supporter of oil and gas development in his state. He ran undefeated until 2008, when, marred by corruption charges, he failed to regain the seat he had held on for more than four decades.

A powerful force in the Republican party, Stevens occupied many important posts -- he served as party whip for eight years in the 1980's, chaired the Alaska delegation to the Republican National Convention in 1984 and was chairman of the powerful appropriations committee for nearly seven years.

But he was often at odds within his own party over tax cuts and abortion, and took much criticism for putting his state's interests always at the front and directing millions of dollars into Alaska projects.

He also famously clashed with environmental groups over his outspoken support for oil and gas drilling and exploration in Alaska and his close ties to Big Oil in Congress.

In his home state, however, Stevens enjoyed widespread popularity until beleaguered by corruption charges. In 2000, the Alaska state legislature awarded him the title of "Alaskan of the Century."

"I am guilty of asking the Senate for pork and proud of the Senate for giving it to me," Stevens famously declared in 2001.

Ted Stevens Dies

Stevens was a staunch advocate of oil production in Alaska. In 1973, Stevens supported and pushed to expedite the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline that connects Alaska's oil-producing Prudhoe Bay to the southern shipping port of Valdez. In his long career, he pushed for numerous proposals granting concessions to oil companies in Alaska and around the county.

His lobbying for the famous "Bridge to Nowhere" in 2005 divided the Republican party. As chair of the appropriations committee, Stevens directed $398 million in federal funding for a bridge that would link a small town to an island in Alaska inhabited by less than 50 people. But the plan was called off after complaints of pork-barrel spending, even as Stevens threatened to resign.

In the end, the money was still earmarked for Alaska.

While Stevens, with his famous "Incredible Hulk" necktie, became a powerful and influential political figure in his state, his career was marred after he was indicted by a federal grand jury on seven counts of making false statements. He became only the 11th sitting U.S. senator in American history to be indicted.

The indictment charged that Stevens "knowingly and intentionally sought to conceal and cover up his receipt of things of value by filing Financial Disclosure Forms that contained false statements and omissions" regarding $250,000 in gifts of value.

Stevens pleaded not guilty but in October, 2008, just a few weeks shy of the election, he was found guilty on all charges. Eventually, the charges were dropped by Holder but not before the verdict cost Stevens his career.

For the first time in his four-decade plus career, Steven lost his reelection bid and became the first longest serving senator to not win back his seat.

Stevens survived the crash of a Learjet 25C at Anchorage International Airport on December 4, 1978 that killed five people, including his wife, Ann. Stevens had three sons and two daughters with his first wife. He married Catherine Chandler in 1980, with whom he has one daughter.

ABC News' Matthew Jaffe contributed to this report.