(NEXSTAR) — Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has died due to complications from COVID-19, his family said in a statement shared on Facebook on Monday. He was 84.
According to Powell’s family, he was fully vaccinated and was receiving treatment at Walter Reed National Medical Center.
“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American,” the family wrote in the statement.
“General 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. He was fully vaccinated. 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.”— The Powell Family
Powell was the first African American to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and later U.S. secretary of state, for which he was unanimously confirmed in 2001.
As head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he oversaw the U.S. invasion of Panama and later the U.S. invasion of Kuwait to oust the Iraqi army in 1991.
Powell was the first American official to publicly lay the blame for the 9/11 terrorist attacks on Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network and made a lightning trip to Pakistan in October 2001 to demand that then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf cooperate with the United States in going after the Afghanistan-based group, which also had a presence in Pakistan, where bin Laden was later killed.
He would go on to make a persuasive case before the U.N. Security Council in 2003 for U.S. military action against Iraq, claiming that Saddam Hussein was building weapons of mass destruction. The war was waged, Saddam was toppled and killed, Iraq was destabilized, but no such weapons were found and his reputation suffered a painful setback.
Powell consistently defended his support of the Iraq War. He cited faulty information claiming Hussein had secretly stashed away weapons of mass destruction. He told the U.N. that Iraq’s claims that it had not represented “a web of lies.”
A lifelong Republican, Powell had little use for former President Donald Trump, endorsing Hillary Clinton in 2016 and speaking in support of Joe Biden at the 2020 Democratic National Convention. He left the Republican Party after the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.
Former President George W. Bush said he and former first lady Laura Bush were “deeply saddened” by Powell’s death.
“He was a great public servant” and “widely respected at home and abroad,” Bush said. “And most important, Colin was a family man and a friend. Laura and I send Alma and their children our sincere condolences as they remember the life of a great man.”
Powell rose from a childhood in a fraying New York neighborhood to become the nation’s chief diplomat. “Mine is the story of a black kid of no early promise from an immigrant family of limited means who was raised in the South Bronx,” he wrote in his 1995 autobiography “My American Journey.”
At City College, Powell discovered the ROTC. When he put on his first uniform, “I liked what I saw,” he wrote.
He joined the Army and in 1962 he was one of more than 16,000 “advisers” sent to South Vietnam by President John F. Kennedy. A series of promotions led to the Pentagon and assignment as a military assistant to Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who became his unofficial sponsor. He later became commander of the Army’s 5h Corps in Germany and later was national security assistant to President Ronald Reagan.
Powell’s appearances at the United Nations as secretary of state, including his Iraq speech, were often accompanied by fond reminiscing of his childhood in the city, where he grew up the child of Jamaican immigrants who got one of his first jobs at the Pepsi-Cola bottling plant directly across the East River from the UN headquarters.
A fan of calypso music, Powell was the subject of criticism from, among others, singing legend Harry Belafonte, who likened Powell to a “house slave” for going along with the decision to invade Iraq. Powell declined to get into a public spat with Belafonte, but made it known that he was not a fan and much preferred the Trinidadian calypso star the “Mighty Sparrow.”
Powell maintained, in a 2012 interview with The Associated Press, that on balance, U.S. succeeded in Iraq.
“I think we had a lot of successes,” Powell said. “Iraq’s terrible dictator is gone.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.