From left: Retired Rep. John Dingell and his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell, who succeeded him in Congress, in 2014
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

A social media star in recent years after decades in Congress fighting for healthcare and other causes, retired Rep. John Dingell died this week

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February 08, 2019 02:43 PM

Michigan Democrat John Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history who fought for years for key liberal causes including healthcare expansion and civil rights — and who more recently delighted his 264,000 followers on Twitter with biting commentary and wit — died Thursday at home in Dearborn. He was 92.

His wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell announced his passing in a statement.

John had a heart attack in September, according to ABC News, and was suffering from complications of prostate cancer, the Washington Post reported.

Friday morning, Debbie, 65, who won her husband’s seat after he announced his retirement in 2014, shared her grief on Facebook, writing that her “heart is broken.”

“My true love is gone,” she wrote. “The tears are flowing pretty freely as I miss the man that made me whole. One can know it is coming, but nothing prepares you for the hole in your heart. He was my one and only true love.”

Before John died, Debbie tweeted earlier this week that she would not be in Washington, D.C., and was home with him “taking each day as it comes.”

John sent out his final tweet the night before he died:

“The Lovely Deborah is insisting I rest and stay off here, but after long negotiations we’ve worked out a deal where she’ll keep up with Twitter for me as I dictate the messages. I want to thank you all for your incredibly kind words and prayers. You’re not done with me just yet.”

From left: President Barack Obama and retired Michigan Rep. John Dingell
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty

John was the representative for Michigan’s 15th Congressional District for 59 years — beginning in 1955, when as a 29-year-old he succeeded his father who died in office, until his wife won his seat in 2014.

He became known for his fierce defense of Detroit-area of auto workers and fought to pass monumental healthcare, civil rights and conservation laws.

Dingell was also “an investigative powerhouse,” according to the the New York Times.

“Among his achievements,” the Times reports, “were enhancing the safety of blood banks, bottled water and pacemakers and exposing waste, fraud and abuse throughout the federal government.”

John’s humor became well-known once he took up Twitter. Soon after the late Sen. John McCain announced in 2017 that he was diagnosed with brain cancer, John tweeted: “My friend @SenJohnMcCain is a dogged ole S.O.B. Sharp as hell and tougher than a $2 steak. I look forward to catching up with him soon.”

In an interview with PEOPLE in 2017, John recalled his first glimpse of McCain when the latter was then a Republican freshman on the floor of the legislature.

“I said, ‘Who the hell is that?’ And they said, ‘That’s McCain,’ and I said, ‘What’d he do?’ And they said,'”He’s a great big hero,’ ” John recalled that August. “I said, ‘Well I have to go over and meet him.”

John said the pair didn’t work on many issues together but crossed the aisle on some. “We understood that was our duty,” he said.

John’s social media was serious and laid-back, even playful sometimes, mixing sports analysis with politics and messages to supporters. He spoke out often and harshly against President Donald Trump.

But he was never self-serious. In a 2014 tweet, he shared his wonder upon discovering the Kardashians. “Staff has now informed me of what a Kardashian is,” he wrote. “I’m only left with more questions.”

Former President Barack Obama, who in 2014 awarded Dingell the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, shared Dingell’s many accomplishments through a statement he released on Twitter:

On Friday President Trump ordered the U.S. flag lowered to half-staff until sundown.

John, a World War II veteran, will be buried at Arlington National Cemeter, following a funeral service held in D.C., with details still to come, his office said.

Visitation will be held in Dearborn on Feb. 11 and a funeral mass held the next day at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Dearborn.

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