Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell died on Monday from complications of COVID-19, his family said in a Facebook post.
Powell, 84, had been receiving treatment at Walter Reed National Medical Center and was fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, his family wrote. Powell had multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer that greatly diminishes the body’s immune response, NBC News and CNN reported.
“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American,” his family said.
Powell was the first Black U.S. secretary of state when he was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2001. His false claims about then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction helped justify Bush’s invasion in 2003.
Powell served two tours in Vietnam in the Army. He was President Ronald Reagan’s deputy national security adviser, and then national security adviser. He was promoted to the rank of general in 1989, and chaired the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush.
Powell oversaw 28 crises as the Joint Chiefs chair, according to the State Department. They included Operation Desert Storm in 1991 ― the military response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. It was the first U.S. major foreign crisis since the Cold War.
President Joe Biden honored Powell on Monday as “a dear friend,” a trailblazer in breaking racial barriers, and someone who embodied “the highest ideals of both warrior and diplomat.”
“He believed in the promise of America because he lived it. And he devoted much of his life to making that promise a reality for so many others,” said Biden, who worked with Powell as a senator. “Over our many years working together — even in disagreement — Colin was always someone who gave you his best and treated you with respect.”
George W. Bush hailed Powell as “a great public servant” and “a favorite of presidents.”
“He was highly respected at home and abroad. And most important, Colin was a family man and a friend,” Bush said in a statement that sent condolences to Powell’s wife Alma and their children.
Powell, among others in the George W. Bush administration, lied in making the case for the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, falsely claiming that its president, Saddam Hussein, had weapons of mass destruction. Powell infamously warned the United Nations Security Council that, if unstopped, Hussein intended to develop nuclear weapons and was already capable of biological attacks on other countries, including the U.S.
Powell said in a 2006 interview that he felt “terrible” about his role in supporting the invasion and blamed the intelligence system.