From NBC's Mark Murray
Sen. Ted Kennedy -- a legislative lion of the Senate and brother to John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy -- passed away late last night. He was 77.
"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," his family said in a statement. "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. 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."
President Obama, whom Kennedy endorsed during the Democratic primaries, released his own statement, saying that he and his wife were "heartbroken" about the news. "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," he said. "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."
Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, one of Kennedy's closest friends in the Senate, added: "Today America lost a great elder statesman, a committed public servant, and leader of the Senate. And today I lost a treasured friend."