Former Sen. Bob Dole died on Sunday morning, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation announced online. The one-time Republican Kansas lawmaker was 98 years old, and he reportedly passed away in his sleep. No cause of death has been announced yet, though Dole was diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year.
"It is with heavy hearts we announce that Senator Robert Joseph Dole died early this morning in his sleep," the statement reads. "At his death, at age 98, he had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years. More information coming soon." The post included the hashtag "Remembering Bob Dole," which built up momentum quickly. Many Americans remembered Dole better for his presidential campaign than for his work as a senator.
It is with heavy hearts we announce that Senator Robert Joseph Dole died early this morning in his sleep. At his death, at age 98, he had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years. More information coming soon. #RememberingBobDole pic.twitter.com/57NtGfqtmL— Elizabeth Dole Foundation (@DoleFoundation) December 5, 2021
Dole was born in Kansas in 1923 to parents who ran a small creamery. He attended the University of Kansas right out of high school, where he was a star athlete, but he put off his studies to fight in World War II. He was seriously wounded in combat in Italy and was sent home to recover in a military hospital near Kansas. When he returned to civilian life, he finished his undergraduate degree at Washburn University and then went on to earn a law degree, as well.
Dole was just 27 years old the first time he ran for office, vying for a spot in the Kansas House of Representatives. He served a two-year term there before taking a job as the County Attorney of Russel County in 1952. Dole was then elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1960 and held that office until moving up to the U.S. Senate in 1968.
Dole was a senator for decades until resigning at last in 1996 to focus on his presidential campaign. He had already sought the Republican party's nomination twice and the vice presidency once. In 1996 he finally got it, becoming the oldest first-time presidential nominee at age 73. His campaign was characterized by promises of compromise and bipartisanship, while Dole himself was seen by supporters as a "straight-talker."
During the campaign, Dole was famously played by the late comedian Norm MacDonald on Saturday Night Live, which is part of the reason his campaign is so well-remembered today. Dole himself leaned into the joke by appearing on the show in November of 1996. When MacDonald passed away earlier this year, Dole posted a public tribute to him.
After losing the 1996 presidential election to incumbent President Bill Clinton, Dole stayed on the fringes of politics as a consultant, writer and TV news guest. He took some endorsement opportunities, including an infamous Pepsi-Cola commercial with Britney Spears, and worked with some lobbying groups and volunteer organizations. The organization that announced his passing was named for his second wife, former U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole (neé Hanford), and is dedicated to helping support wounded veterans and their caregivers.
Dole was diagnosed with lung cancer in February of 2021 and received treatment, including chemotherapy, but it is not clear if these played a part in his death. Dole wrote five books in his lifetime, and many admirers are looking back on his autobiography One Soldier's Story: A Memoir in the wake of his passing.