“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American,” his family said in a statement, adding that he was fully vaccinated.
The statement continued, “We want to thank the medical staff at Walter Reed National Medical Center for their caring treatment.”
Powell, the first African-American secretary of state, served in Bush’s Cabinet from 2001-2005, including during the tumultuous years following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The State Department described Powell, a Republican, as being “one of the foremost supporters” of taking “swift military action” against al Qaeda. Powell demanded “immediate” cooperation from Afghanistan and Pakistan in the U.S. effort to hunt down those responsible for the attacks.
By 2003, when the Bush administration’s focus had expanded to Iraq, Powell pushed for United Nations inspectors to investigate the claims that Saddam Hussein was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. Powell presented intelligence to the U.N. in February 2003 that supported the administration’s claim that Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction and had the capabilities of producing more. In 2004, though, the State Department said some of the intelligence he presented was “found to be erroneous.” Powell, though, according to the State Department, felt military action should not begin “until a large coalition of allies and a long-term occupation plan were in place.” Despite his advice, the administration moved toward preemptive military action against Iraq.
While the majority of his term as secretary of state was focused on Afghanistan and Iraq, the State Department said Powell pursued other areas of U.S. foreign policy—including strengthening bilateral relationships with Russia and China—including his efforts to manage the U.S. withdrawal from the U.S.-Russian Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, and the signing of the Moscow Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions in May 2002.
Powell also pushed for international cooperation for North Korea and Iran to halt their nuclear weapons program. Under his leadership, the Bush administration also achieved nonproliferation success in Libya, when it agreed to give up its nuclear weapons program in 2003, according to the State Department.
Powell, during his time at the State Department, also pushed the Bush administration to increase its commitment to the international fight against AIDS, and helped to secure additional funding.
Powell was born in 1937 in Harlem, N.Y. His parents were Jamaican immigrants and raised him in the South Bronx.
He attended City College in New York, where he began his military service by joining the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). Following his graduation in 1958, Powell was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He served for 35 years—with two tours in Vietnam, and then later acting as deputy national security adviser for former President Ronald Reagan.
Then, President George H. W. Bush appointed him to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During his time in that post, Powell oversaw 28 crises, according to the State Department, including Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
Powell stepped down from the post in 1993 and founded America’s Promise Alliance, an organization aimed to help at-risk children, before incoming President George W. Bush nominated him for secretary of state in December 2000.
In a statement Monday morning, George W. Bush released a statement on Powell’s passing. “Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of Colin Powell,” he said. “He was highly respected at home and abroad. And most important, Colin was a family man and a friend. Laura and I send Alma and their children our sincere condolences as they remember the life of a great man.”
Powell returned to his work with America’s Promise Alliance after stepping down from Bush’s Cabinet in 2005. Powell, during his retirement, also served on the Boards of Directors for the Council on Foreign relations, the Eisenhower Fellowship Program, and the Powell Center at the City College of New York.
In 2020, Powell spoke at the Democratic National Convention, and offered a full endorsement of Joe Biden for president of the United States.
“Today, we are a country divided, and we have a president doing everything in his power to make it that way and keep us that way,” Powell said in a pretaped speech for the convention in August 2020. “What a difference it will make to have a president who unites us, who restores our strength and our soul.”
This is a developing story; check back for updates.