Teddy Kennedy, Lion of the Senate and the Last of the Democrat Dynasty; 'A JOYOUS LIGHT' FAMILY PAYS TRIBUTE TO HIS 'OPTIMISM, PERSEVERANCE AND INSPIRATION'

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Byline: David Gardner in Los Angeles

EDWARD KENNEDY, head of America's most famous political dynasty ever since the assassination of his two brothers, died today at the age of 77 after suffering a brain tumour.

Known universally as Teddy, he was the second-longest serving senator and put his imprint on every major piece of social legislation, battling for equal rights and healthcare reform.

His career, as standard bearer of his brothers' liberal causes, spanned nearly 50 years, was tainted with controversy and he never achieved his ambition to become President.

But he was known as the "Lion of the Senate" and was the patriarch of a family that was regarded as the closest thing the US had to royalty.

His death is seen as the end of the "Camelot era", a phrase coined to describe the glamour of the John F Kennedy administration of the Sixties.

His family issued a statement saying: "We've lost the irreplaceable centre of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism and perseverance will live on in our hearts for ever.

"He loved this country and devoted his life to serving it. He always believed that our best days were still ahead, but it's hard to imagine any of them without him."

Gordon Brown led UK tributes, saying he would be mourned in "every continent". The Prime Minister praised the senator for "fighting for the causes which were his life's work" even as he faced illness and death. Tony Blair added his tribute, praising his "passionate commitment" to the Northern Ireland peace process.

Teddy Kennedy's early years were spent in the shadow of JFK and Senator Robert Kennedy. But after their deaths, he overcame scandal to forge a long and vastly influential career as one of Washington's most powerful Democrat powerbrokers. The youngest of nine Kennedy siblings, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour in May last year and had successful surgery.

But his health deteriorated and he suffered a seizure on the day of President Obama's inauguration in January. Since then, he quietly retreated from public view as his condition deteriorated and died at his home in Hyannis Port, Massachussetts, early today. His own presidential aspirations were ruined by a 1969 car accident that resulted in the death of a woman passenger. While he managed to escape after crashing his car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick on Cape Cod, he was blamed for allowing Mary Jo Kopechne to drown.

A 1980 challenge to President Jimmy Carter ended in defeat, but his concession speech defined his liberal mission. "For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end," he said.

"For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die. …