AUCKLAND, New Zealand, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- Edmund Hillary, who climbed to international fame as a member of the first climbing party to scale Mount Everest, died Thursday in New Zealand at age 88.
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark called Hillary the best-known New Zealander ever to have lived, The New Zealand Herald reported. Hillary died in Auckland City Hospital, reportedly surrounded by his family.
"Sir Ed described himself as an average New Zealander with modest abilities. In reality, he was a colossus," Clark said.
The one-time beekeeper reached the crest of Mount Everest May 29, 1953, with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. He once said of the feat, "We knocked the bastard off."
Hillary climbed 10 other peaks in the Himalayas, and reached the South Pole as part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition.
Hillary, who had experienced failing health in recent years, became a writer and lecturer later in life.
He was made a knight of the Order of the British Empire in 1953 and 42 years later received knighthood in the Order of the Garter.
Hillary founded the Himalayan Trust, a philanthropic organization through which he provided assistance to Nepal.
Hillary is survived by his second wife, June, and two children.