After the war, Helms returned to radio work, held a directorship with the North Carolina Bankers Association and then returned back to radio. In the 1960s, he developed a reputation as an outspoken critic of what he believed was unfair coverage of the South, particularly concerning the struggle for civil rights.
He used his position with the radio station as a forum to air his views on national and international issues. He became an outspoken critic of federal policies, including welfare, and often denounced judicial decisions in which he considered the punishment not suitable enough for the crime.
In 1972, Helms ran for the Senate and won by a large margin. He quickly established himself as one of the party's more solid conservatives and continued to win re-election.
He did not enjoy widespread support in Congress, in part because of his tendency to overstep boundaries when speaking out on a subject. He was widely derided in 1994 when he called President Clinton an "incompetent commander" of the nation's armed forces. He also suggested that because of a disgruntled electorate, the president might need a bodyguard with him on visits to North Carolina.
Yet Helms managed to have an impact in U.S. foreign affairs, largely through his six-year chairmanship in the 1990s of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Helms opposed most internationalist efforts.
"Senator Helms not only speaks for the tens of millions of Americans who don't trust the foreign-policy establishment, he also opens the door to a true national consensus behind important foreign-policy goals," Walter Russell Mead, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in The New York Times.
As a staunch anti-Communist and opponent of Cuban President Fidel Castro, Helms sponsored the Helms-Burton Act in 1996, which extended the U.S. embargo of Cuba.
Helms also served on the Senate Agriculture Committee and on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.
Helms did not seek re-election in 2002, citing multiple health problems, including bouts with heart disease and prostate cancer.
Helms married the former Dorothy Jane Coble. They had three children and seven grandchildren.
ABC News' Russell Goldman contributed to this report.