US senator and war hero John McCain dies at 81

John McCain, a Vietnam War hero with more than 35 years of public service and who became one of the most distinctive figures in modern American politics as a maverick conservative who took delight in disruption, died Saturday at his home in Arizona.

McCain was the admiral’s son who refused an easy out from a Vietcong prison, enduring torture rather than abandoning his friends.

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He was also a six-term Republican senator who gained an outsized influence by going against his own party and negotiating with Democrats.

His father and grandfather both graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, both men going on to become four-star admirals. McCain went, too, but barely made it out, earning a reputation as a partier, a less-than-diligent student. He graduated fifth from the bottom of his class.

After Vietnam, McCain’s marriage to his first wife, Carol, fell apart.

Over the course of his extraordinary political journey, McCain forged deep friendships, especially with South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.

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But McCain’s personal affections were never partisan. Among his close friends were Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman, Massachusetts Sens. Ted Kennedy and John Kerry and former Vice President and Delaware Sen. Joe Biden.

McCain’s tenure in the House of Representatives began in 1983, and after four years he was elected to the Senate in 1986. He would go on to serve Arizona as senator for the next 32 years.

McCain was a staunch supporter of Israel and was critical of Obama’s relations with Israel, saying in 2015 that the relationship between the United States and Israel is “the worst that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime”.

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He also attacked then-Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to force through a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority on Israel, calling him a “human wrecking ball” at one point.

Last October, as his health declined, McCain spoke of his life in public service.

“I’ve had the good fortune to spend 60 years in service to this wondrous land,” he said. “It has not been perfect service, to be sure, and there were probably times when the country might have benefited from a little less of my help.

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“But I’ve tried to deserve the privilege as best I can, and I’ve been repaid a thousand times over with adventures, with good company, and with the satisfaction of serving something more important than myself, of being a bit player in the extraordinary story of America,” he said. “And I am so very grateful.”

McCain’s daughter Meghan posted a tribute to her father on Twitter shortly after his death, saying she was with him “at his end as he was with me at my beginning.”

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“My father is gone, and I miss him as only an adoring daughter can,” she wrote. “But in this loss, and in this sorrow, I take comfort in this: John McCain, hero of the republic and to his little girl, wakes today to something more glorious than anything on this earth. Today the warrior enters his true and eternal life.”

McCain is survived by his wife Cindy and his seven children.