WASHINGTON (ABC7/AP) — Former Rep. John Dingell, Jr., the longest-serving member of Congress in United States history, has died on Thursday -- a day after his wife and successor, Rep. Debbie Dingell, announced that he was entering "a new phase" of his life, according to an ABC News report.
Dubbed "Big John" for his imposing 6-foot-3 frame and sometimes intimidating manner, a reputation bolstered by the wild game heads decorating his Washington office, Dingell served with every president from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Barack Obama.
He was a longtime supporter of universal health care, a cause he adopted from his late father, whom he replaced in Congress in 1955. He also was known as a dogged pursuer of government waste and fraud, and even helped take down two top presidential aides while leading the investigative arm of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, which he chaired for 14 years.
Dingell had a front-row seat for the passage of landmark legislation he supported, including Medicare, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act, but also for the Clean Air Act, which he was accused of stalling to help auto interests. His hometown, the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, was home to a Ford Motor Co. factory that was once the largest in the world.
Yet one of his proudest moments came in 2010, when he sat next to Obama as the $938 billion health care overhaul was signed into law. Dingell had introduced a universal health care coverage bill in each of his terms.
"Presidents come and presidents go," former President Bill Clinton said in 2005, when Dingell celebrated 50 years in Congress. "John Dingell goes on forever."
Critics called him overpowering and intimidating, a reputation boosted by the head of a 500-pound wild boar that looked at visitors to his Washington office. The story behind it? Dingell is said to have felled the animal with a pistol as it charged him during a hunting trip in Soviet Georgia.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced his death on Twitter, stating:
A source close to the Dingell family also confirmed that Dingell, Jr. had died.
Dingell had 252,000 followers on Twitter, which was an outlet for the outspoken Democrat's wry takes and quick wit. In January, he noted the negative 7-degree temperature in Hell, Michigan, and retweeted a tweet from the Detroit Free Press that said the "Detroit Lions are going to win the Super Bowl" now that Hell had frozen over.
Along with his wife, Dingell is survived by two daughters, two sons, one of whom served 15 years in the Michigan Legislature, and several grandchildren.
Dingell, age 92, was known to have been in declining health in recent months. He also suffered a heart attack Sept. 17, 2018.
This is a developing story.