John McCain, a war hero and towering figure in US politics known for reaching across the aisle in an increasingly divided nation, died on Saturday following a battle with brain cancer. He was 81.
The senator’s passing marked the end of a 35-year political career that brought the independent-minded Republican within reach of the White House as his party’s presidential nominee.
‘It’s been quite a ride,’ McCain, who was tortured during five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, wrote in a memoir published earlier this year.
‘I’ve known great passions, seen amazing wonders, fought in a war and helped make peace. I made a small place for myself in the story of America and the history of my times.’
McCain, who was being treated at his Arizona ranch, was surrounded by his wife Cindy and his family during his final hours.
‘He was a great fire who burned bright, and we lived in his light and warmth,’ said Meghan McCain, one of the late senator’s seven children - three of them from a previous marriage.
In Washington, flags on Capitol Hill and the White House were lowered to half mast in his honour.
Near the driveway to his ranch in Sedona, Arizona, a sign read ‘Sen McCain, thank you for your service.’
A police escort accompanied the hearse that carried his body, as a fiery sunset cast its last light over the countryside McCain loved so dearly. Local residents brought flowers to honour the late politician.
Friends and colleagues had travelled to Arizona to bid McCain farewell in the months since his cancer diagnosis in July 2017.
US president Donald Trump, who once mocked McCain’s war record, said he sent his ‘deepest sympathies and respect.’
A rare Republican critic of Trump, McCain accused the president of ‘naiveté,’ ‘egotism’ and of sympathising with autocrats. He cast a decisive vote last year that killed Republican attempts to repeal Barack Obama’s health care reforms, something Trump never forgave.
All living former US presidents lined up to praise McCain’s deep integrity.
‘We are all in his debt,’ said Obama, the Democrat to whom McCain lost the presidency in 2008.
‘We shared, for all our differences, a fidelity to something higher - the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched and sacrificed.’
McCain ‘was a man of deep conviction and a patriot of the highest order,’ said Republican George W Bush (2001-2009).
The late senator requested that both Obama and Bush deliver eulogies at his funeral, US media reported. He also made it known that he did not want Donald Trump to attend.
Democrat Bill Clinton (1993-2001) praised McCain, saying he ‘frequently put partisanship aside,’ while Republican George H W Bush (1989-1993) hailed him as ‘a public servant of the rarest courage.’
McCain ‘was a man of honour, a true patriot in the best sense of the word,’ wrote Democrat Jimmy Carter (1977-1981). ‘Americans will be forever grateful for his heroic military service & his steadfast integrity.’
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