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Former Secretary of State Colin Powell dies at 84 of COVID-19 complications

"He was highly respected at home and abroad. And most important, Colin was a family man and a friend," former President George W. Bush said Monday.

Secretary of State Dick Cheney (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell speak to the media on August 22, 1990 in Kennebunkport, Maine. Powell and Cheney had briefed President George H.W. Bush about the war in the Persian Gulf. Photo by Joe Marquette/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 18 (UPI) -- Former Secretary of State and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell died on Monday due to complications from COVID-19, his family said. He was 84.

Powell's family announced his death in a post to Facebook.

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"Gen. Colin L. Powell, former U.S. secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, passed away this morning due to complications from COVID-19," they wrote. "We want to thank the medical staff at Walter Reed National Medical Center for their caring treatment.

"We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American."

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The family noted that he was fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. But CNN quoted a source saying Powell had multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, whose treatment made him more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Powell was key figure in Washington following the first Gulf War in 1990. For a time during the 1990s, he was often approached to run for the Republican presidential nomination. He served as the 65th secretary of state under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005.

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"Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of Colin Powell," Bush said in a statement. "He was a great public servant, starting with his time as a soldier during Vietnam. Many presidents relied on General Powell's counsel and experience.

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"He was highly respected at home and abroad. And most important, Colin was a family man and a friend. Laura and I send [his wife] Alma and their children our sincere condolences as they remember the life of a great man."

The American flag flies at half staff following the death of Colin Powell, former U.S. secretary of state, at the White House on Monday. Photo by Al Drago/UPI

President Joe Biden, who ordered the American flags at the White House lowered to half-staff in Powell's honor, called him a "patriot of unmatched honor and dignity."

"He believed in the promise of America because he lived it," Biden said in a statement. "Colin was always someone who gave you his best and treated you with respect."

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"Time and again, he put country before self, before party, before all else -- in uniform and out -- and it earned him the universal respect of the American people," he added.

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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the first Black American to lead the Pentagon, also praised Powell for his life of service.

"The world lost one of the greatest leaders that we have ever witnessed," Austin told C-SPAN. "Alma lost a great husband and the family lost a tremendous father. I lost a tremendous personal friend and mentor. I feel as if I have a hole in my heart."

"We are deeply saddened," the Congressional Black Caucus tweeted. "His legacy of valor and integrity will resonate for generations to come."

"Today, the nation lost a man of undaunted courage and a champion of character," 2012 GOP presidential nominee and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said in a tweet.

Powell first fought in combat during the Vietnam War and rose through the military ranks to become the first Black national security adviser during the end of President Ronald Reagan's second term in the late 1980s. He became the first Black, and the youngest, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under former President George H.W. Bush in 1989.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Powell was a key part of George W. Bush's initiation of the war on terror, first in Afghanistan and then Iraq. His presentation at the United Nations Security Council in New York City in 2003, in which he argued that dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, was a major influencing event that drew support from Americans and Western allies for the Iraqi invasion.

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Powell later told a Senate panel that the sources of his information about Hussein were wrong and that it was unlikely at the time that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

After leaving government, Powell continued to be a vocal supporter of public service and was mentioned as a possible nominee in Democratic President Barack Obama's Cabinet. He also advocated for education and encouraged young Americans to use technologies as an advantage for their futures. He was also a spokesman for National Mentoring Month, a yearly campaign to recruit volunteer mentors for at-risk youths.

In the late 1990s, Powell founded the America's Promise Alliance, a foundation focused on preparing "new generations of publicly engaged leaders from populations previously underrepresented in public service." Its mission is to "build a strong culture of civic engagement" and to "mobilize campus resources to meet pressing community needs and serve the public good."

Powell was highly critical of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, at one point calling him a "national disgrace," during the 2016 campaign and warned that the Republican Party was veering dangerously to the right. He voted for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

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He said he voted for Biden in the 2020 election, chastised the GOP for not standing up to Trump's extremism and ultimately left the Republican Party after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by radical Trump supporters.

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