Bob Dole, the former Senate Majority Leader and the Republican presidential candidate in 1996, died in his sleep on Sunday morning. He was 98 years old.
Dole’s death was announced by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, an organization that supports military veteran caregivers founded by former U.S. senator Elizabeth Dole, his wife of 46 years. No location of death was confirmed. In February, Dole had announced that he had been diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer and was beginning treatment.
“It is with heavy hearts we announced that Senator Robert Joseph Dole died early this morning in his sleep,” reads the Foundation’s official statement. “At his death, at age 98, he had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years.”
Bob Dole was revered during his life as a prime example of the Greatest Generation, a patriot who enlisted for military service in World War II and continued to serve his country in Congress for decades. During his 1996 presidential bid and in his retirement, Dole was a frequent presence on the late-night TV talk show circuit. He was known for his plain-spoken observations about the state of politics and pop culture.
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
Born July 22, 1923 in Russell, Kansas and raised during the Great Depression, Dole enlisted in the Army during World War II and was almost fatally wounded while serving in Italy in 1945, leaving him with a permanent disability in his right arm. Dole received the Purple Heart twice and two Bronze stars for his military service.
After the war, Dole served a term in the Kansas state House of Representatives before working for eight years as a Russell County prosecutor. In 1960, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives to represent Kansas. Dole served four terms in the House before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1968. That began a 27-year tenure that included two stints as Senate Majority Leader. Dole also served as President Gerald Ford’s running mate in 1976.
Dole resigned from the Senate in 1996, leaving as the chamber’s longest serving GOP leader (a record broken in 2018 by Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky). Dole focused his efforts on a bid for the presidency, gaining the Republican nomination and selecting Jack Kemp as his running mate. He lost to incumbent President Bill Clinton in the general election. Dole had previously mounted two other campaigns for the presidency to no avail — the first in 1980 and the second in 1988, in which he was a strong competitor to eventual nominee George H.W. Bush.
Dole’s impressive record of service and quick wit made him a favorite of TV hosts. He logged eight appearances on CBS’ “The Late Show With David Letterman” from 1995 to 2003 and made 10 stops at “The Daily Show” during Jon Stewart’s tenure. He also made numerous visits to Conan O’Brien during his NBC “Late Night” years and “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.” He also logged an appearance in 2008 on “The Colbert Report,” playing along with the bombastic right-wing host character limned by Stephen Colbert on the 2005-2014 Comedy Central series.
“The last Colbert show I was on was with Claudette,” Dole quipped, referring to the Golden Age movie star Claudette Colbert and his own advancing years.
Dole also raised eyebrows and laughs for serving as a pitchman for prescription drug Viagra after leaving the Senate. He made guest appearances as himself on 1990s comedies “Murphy Brown” and “Suddenly Susan.” He was known to have a good sense of humor about how he was satirized for years on “Saturday Night Live” by cast member Norm Macdonald, who died in September at age 61.
Following his political career, Dole continued his work as an advocate for veterans. He served as national chairman on the World War II Memorial Campaign, working to raise millions to construct the first memorial dedicated to WWII veterans. In January 2018, Dole received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress, becoming the eighth U.S. senator to receive the honor. Dole, an ardent supporter of Donald J. Trump throughout the businessman’s 2016 campaign for presidency, was honored by the then-President at the medal ceremony.
In addition to his wife, who is a former U.S. senator from North Carolina and former head of the American Red Cross, Dole’s survivors include a daughter, Robin.