Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts liberal who championed civil rights and advocated for workers and the poor, died Tuesday night at his home on Cape Cod. He was 77.

Kennedy was diagnosed last year with brain cancer but vowed to live long enough to see Barack Obama sworn in as the nation’s first African American president. Indeed, Kennedy did attend Obama’s inauguration but was carried from a post-inaugural luncheon after suffering a seizure.

In the waning days of his life Kennedy continued to support Obama, becoming one of the most ardent supporters of the president’s plan to reform health care.

Kennedy’s family announced his death in a brief statement released early Wednesday.

“We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever,” the statement said. “We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all.”

Obama also issued a statement:

“Michelle and I were heartbroken to learn this morning of the death of our dear friend, Senator Ted Kennedy.

“For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts.

“I valued his wise counsel in the Senate, where, regardless of the swirl of events, he always had time for a new colleague. I cherished his confidence and momentous support in my race for the Presidency. And even as he waged a valiant struggle with a mortal illness, I’ve profited as President from his encouragement and wisdom.

“An important chapter in our history has come to an end. Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States Senator of our time.

“And the Kennedy family has lost their patriarch, a tower of strength and support through good times and bad.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to them today–to his wonderful wife, Vicki, his children Ted Jr., Patrick and Kara, his grandchildren and his extended family.”

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