Colin Powell, the nation’s first Black secretary of state, died Monday. He was 84.
“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,” his family said in a statement on Powell’s official Facebook page. “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.”
Powell was fully vaccinated, his family said. He had been battling complications from multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells that suppresses the body’s immune response, CNN reported.
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Reactions from politicians, civil servants and celebrities poured in for the late secretary of state.
Jaime Harrison, chair of the Democratic National Committee wrote on Twitter: “This is hitting me hard. Colin Powell was a statesman who put his country & family above all else. As a young Black man, he inspired me & showed that there are no limits to what we can be or achieve. Sending my prayers to his family. Rest In Peace Secty.”
Filmmaker Rob Reiner tweeted: “I worked with Colin Powell in advocating for investment in early childhood development. He was generous and kind. And I know he was anguished and regretted his support of the invasion of Iraq. May he Rest In Peace.”
Actor George Takei wrote on Twitter: “My thoughts are with the loved ones of Colin Powell, whom we lost today. Powell made history as the first African American Secretary of State, after serving as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A man of principle, he was a strong critic of those who put party over country.”
Powell was born in New York City in 1937 to immigrant parents from Jamaica. He was raised in the South Bronx before attending the City College of New York in 1958. He went on to join the ROTC in college before signing up for the Army. Powell served for over three decades in the military, eventually rising to the rank of general. During the Vietnam War he was a captain.
After fighting in Vietnam, he became national security adviser under President Ronald Reagan and then served as the youngest chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush.
Under President George W. Bush, Powell became the 65th secretary of state, serving from 2001 to 2005.
During his time as secretary of state, Powell made an infamous speech in 2003 at the United Nations Security Council in which he alleged there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Evidence later proved those claims to be false.
“It’s a blot. I’m the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world, and [it] will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It’s painful now,” Powell said in a 2005 interview with ABC News.
Despite facing ongoing controversy over the false claims, Powell continued to serve in prominent roles in the private sector as well. After retiring as secretary of state, he became a strategic limited partner at a Silicon Valley venture capital firm. He also joined the board of directors of Salesforce in 2014. He went on to become a spokesperson and mentorship advocate for youth in the U.S.
Shortly after his death Monday, President George W. Bush and his wife Laura Bush released a statement honoring Powell.
“Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of Colin Powell. 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,” the statement said. “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.”