US President Barack Obama said on Wednesday he was "heartbroken" over the death of Senator Edward Kennedy, saying the liberal icon's demise closed an epic chapter in US political life.
"Michelle and I were heartbroken to learn this morning of the death of our dear friend, Senator Ted Kennedy," Obama said in a statement, issued as he vacationed in the well-heeled east coast resort of Martha's Vineyard.
"An important chapter in our history has come to an end. Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States Senator of our time."
Kennedy died, aged 77, late on Tuesday at home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, not far from Obama's vacation spot, after fighting brain cancer for more than a year.
His death cut the last link with the storied dynasty of his assassinated brothers, former president John F. Kennedy and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy.
A White House official said Obama was notified of Kennedy's death at just after 2:00 am (0600 GMT), and spoke with Kennedy's widow Vicki 25 minutes later.
"For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts," Obama said.
Kennedy passed away at the moment when his skills as a Senate dealmaker were most needed as the president struggles to enact an ambitious healthcare reform plan -- an issue for which Kennedy fought for decades.
"I valued his wise counsel in the Senate, where, regardless of the swirl of events, he always had time for a new colleague," said Obama, a former senator himself.
"I cherished his confidence and momentous support in my race for the presidency," Obama added, noting that Kennedy broke with former allies Hillary and Bill Clinton to make an early endorsement of his run for the White House.
At the time, the endorsement was seen as an important validation of Obama's candidacy, and the passing of the torch from the brother of the assassinated political legends to a young and charismatic liberal champion.
Kennedy made a poignant farewell appearance at the Democratic National convention a year ago in Denver to endorse Obama, reprising his famous 1980 speech after his own failed presidential campaign.
"This November, the torch will be passed again to a new generation of Americans, so with Barack Obama, and for you, and me, our country will be committed to his cause," Kennedy roared.
"The work will begin anew, the hope will rise again, and the dream lives on."
Obama noted that Kennedy had offered him counsel. Even as the senator "waged a valiant struggle with a mortal illness, I've profited as president from his encouragement and wisdom.
"The Kennedy family has lost their patriarch, a tower of strength and support through good times and bad.
"Our hearts and prayers go out to them today -- to his wonderful wife, Vicki, his children Ted Jr., Patrick and Kara, his grandchildren and his extended family."
Earlier this month, Obama awarded America's highest civilian honor -- the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- to Kennedy, in a White House ceremony, though the legendary senator was too ill to be present.
"The life of Senator Edward M Kennedy has made a difference for us all," Obama said, as he handed the award to Kennedy's daughter Kara.
White House officials had fielded repeated questions during Obama's vacation, which began on Sunday, about whether the president would make a trip to see Kennedy at his home.
The fact no visit was planned hinted at the Senate giant's fragile condition.