John McCain, Political Maverick and Former GOP Presidential Candidate, Dies at 81

Two-time Purple Heart recipient lost his battle with cancer

Last Updated: August 25, 2018 @ 6:42 PM

Sen. John McCain — former Republican presidential candidate, two-time Gold Star recipient and political icon — has died of cancer, NBC reports. He was 81.

In July 2017, McCain underwent cranial surgery to remove a blood clot near his eye, and subsequent pathology revealed a brain tumor known as a glioblastoma. While continuing cancer treatment, he was hospitalized with a viral infection in December and again last spring with diverticulitis. Friday his family announced that the senator, “with his usual strength of will,” had “chosen to discontinue medical treatment.”

In recent months McCain has been visited by D.C. friends, like, Joe Biden and Sen. Lindsey Graham. According to the New York Times, “intimates” say that McCain wants Vice President Mike Pence to attend his funeral, but not President Donald Trump.

Born John Sidney McCain III at Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone, he followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather by entering the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md. After becoming a naval pilot, he was assigned to aircraft carriers in the Caribbean and Mediterranean Seas, and later was deployed to Vietnam.

In 1967, McCain was captured and imprisoned when his plane was shot down over Hanoi. Both his arms and a leg were fractured as he was ejected from his aircraft, and his shoulder was crushed with a rifle by a North Vietnamese soldier upon landing. After two years in confinement, the North Vietnamese offered to release him, but he refused unless other captives were released as well. As a prisoner of war for five and a half years, McCain was routinely tortured and later said he contemplated suicide.

Among his numerous military decorations are two Purple Heart Medals.

Upon retiring from the Navy in 1981, McCain ran for U.S. House of Representatives and won a seat in 1983 from his native Arizona. He was elected to the Senate in 1986. With his help, the U.S. normalized diplomatic relations with Vietnam. Washington Post in 1993 described McCain as “a conservative with maverick instincts,” a moniker that stuck — and proved to be true through the years.

In 1999, McCain announced his candidacy for president but withdrew when the primary race got ugly. George W. Bush went on to become the Republican nominee and eventual president. Continuing his work in the Senate, McCain co-authored legislation that created the 9/11 Commission and ushered in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, also known as McCain-Feingold.

In 2008, he became the Republican nominee for president, choosing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Their loss resulted in the first election of an African-American president — Barack Obama.

McCain remained a respected leader of the GOP, while crossing the aisle for issues he believed in. In fall 2017, he cast the deciding vote to block his party’s efforts to repeal Obamacare.

He became a popular talk show and late night guest because of his reputation for honesty and self-deprecating jokes, even playing a creepy husband while hosting “SNL.” His last book, “The Restless Wave,” and a HBO documentary on his life were released earlier this year.

His story was also a favorite in Hollywood. Shawn Hatosy played a young McCain in a 2005 A&E movie version of his memoir  about his POW experience, “Faith of Our Fathers.” And Ed Harris and Julianne Moore won Emmys for playing McCain and Palin in the 2012 movie “Game Change” about the 2008 presidential campaign.

McCain is survived by his wife of 38 years, Cindy Lou Hensley; his seven children Douglas, Andrew, Sidney, Meghan (a co-host on ABC’s morning talk show “The View”), John, James and Bridget, who was adopted from a Bangladeshi orphanage run by the late Mother Teresa; five grandchildren; and his 105-year-old mother, Roberta.