WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Former New York Sen. Jacob Javits, a feisty liberal Republican who often sided with Democrats during his 34 years in Congress, displayed courage and dignity in his losing battle against 'Lou Gehrig's Disease,' friends and admirers said.
Javits, who was 81, died at 5:29 p.m. EST Friday in the emergency room of Good Samaritan Hospital in West Palm Beach, hospital administrator Kenneth Weda said.
'Jacob Javits remained to the end a man in love with life, and from the streets of the great city he so cherished to the distant shores of California, he will be deeply missed,' President Reagan said, noting the he showed 'remarkable courage' fighting the crippling disease.
Sen. Robert Dole, R-Kansas, the current Senate majority leader, said, 'Sen. Javits was a real profile in courage. There is no doubt he will be remembered as one of America's all-time great U.S. Senators.'
Javits, who was staying at the condominum of his late brother and sister-in-law, developed breathing problems about 4:30 p.m. and was taken by ambulance to the hospital, a Palm Beach sheriff's spokesman said.
His wife, Marion, was in Florida with Javits but was not with him when he died, a family member in New York said. Funeral arrangements had not been made by Friday night, the family member said.
Javits suffered from amyotropic lateral sclerosis -- Lou Gehrig's Disease -- which destroys muscle control. The ailment confined him to a wheel chair and kept him in and out of hospitals in recent years. But he remained active as an advocate for the rights of the handicapped.
'Jake Javits was unique; one of the greatest senators ever to represent New York and at the end of his life, surely one of the bravest citizens in America,' New York Mayor Ed Koch said.
Javits, who rose from poverty in New York's Lower East Side to serve four terms in the Senate, lost his re-election bid in 1980 to Alfonse M. D'Amato, whomade an issue of his opponent's age and deterioating health.
'Senator Javits served his state and nation with great, great distinction,' D'Amato said Friday night. 'His dignity in the face of a chronic debilitating disease underscored Senator Javits' courage and personal strength.'
New York City's mammoth new convention center, named after Javits, is scheduled to open next month.
'Jacob Javits was a statesmen. His distinguished political career contributed to the lives of the people of the state he loved so dearly and all the people of the world,' New York Gov. Mario Cuomo said.
Javits served 34 years in Washington, first as a congressman and than a senator.
In 1980, he was defeated in a Republican primary by D'Amato after making public the fact he suffered from the disease. He refused to give up, though, and ran on a Liberal Party ticket in a three-way general election against D'Amato and former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, D-N.Y.
Javits insisted from the start the disease would not affect his mental powers and remained active despite being confined to a wheelchair. He became director of the National ALS foundation after leaving office and was active in fundraising drives for the disease, which he wrote about in his book, 'Javits: The Autobiography of a Public Man,' published in 1981.
As a liberal Republican, Javits often sided with the Democrats and assailed his own party's right wing, which he felt was 'far outside the spectrum of American public life.'
For years, Javits was considered the Senate's leading foreign affairs expert, particularly in the Middle East. He also was known for championing programs on behalf of the poor and cities.
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said Friday night Javits 'knew an enormous amount' about foreign policy and played a major role on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
'When I was secretary of state, I leaned heavily on him for advice,' Kissinger said. 'He was a great senator and a very dear friend who made a great contribution to our country.'
He was the principal author of both the War Powers Act, which restricted the authority of presidents to send U.S. troops into conflict, and the Pension Reform Act of 1974, which safeguards the retirement pensions of more than 30 million Americans.
He is survived by his wife, a son and two daughters.