Born in the Panama Canal Zone on August 29, 1936, John Sidney McCain III was the first son and second child of John S. McCain Jr. and Roberta McCain. McCain’s father was a Naval officer, so the family moved around quite a bit throughout his childhood — when he attend 20 schools in total, according to USA Today. He eventually graduated from high school in Northern Virginia.
Following in his father’s footsteps, McCain attended the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, according to the National Review. Although he performed well in subjects that interested him, he ended up at the bottom of his class, graduating in spot 894 out of 899 in 1958. He then went on to train as a Naval aviator and eventually was assigned to numerous aircraft carriers.
In 1965, McCain married his first wife, Carol Shepp, a model from Philadelphia. He adopted her two sons, Douglas and Andrew. The next year, they welcomed a daughter, Sidney, according to ABC News.
McCain, then a lieutenant commander in the Navy, was assigned to Operation Rolling Thunder during the Vietnam War. On Oct. 25, 1967, his plane was shot down over Hanoi. He was injured and nearly drowned, and then was brought ashore by North Vietnamese and taken prisoner, according to The Arizona Republic.
During his five and a half years as a prisoner of war, McCain spent two years in solitary confinement, was beaten multiple times a day, every day, and subjected to other forms of torture. After his father was promoted to commander of the U.S. forces in Vietnam, McCain was offered early release, but he turned it down, not wanting to be freed until his fellow prisoners got the same offer. He was eventually released on March 14, 1973, and was welcomed home as a hero, according to The Washington Post.
After returning home, McCain underwent physical therapy at the National War College at Fort McNair and resumed his Naval service by 1974. Foreshadowing his future role as a U.S. senator, he became the Senate liaison to the Navy in 1977. According to The Arizona Republic, McCain says that position was his “real entry into the world of politics and the beginning of my second career as a public servant.”
He met his second and current wife, Cindy, in 1979 while he was still married to his first wife, Carol. McCain and Carol divorced in April 1980, and he married Cindy the next month. There were tensions with his children at first, who didn’t attend his second wedding, but they have long since reconciled, The New York Times reports.
McCain retired from the Navy in 1981, and in 1982, emboldened by Cindy’s family fortunes (her father ran a beer wholesaler and distributor), McCain ran for the House of Representatives in his wife’s home state of Arizona. Accused of not connecting with the people of Arizona and taking advantage of a political opportunity, he said: “Listen, pal. I spent 22 years in the Navy. My father was in the Navy. My grandfather was in the Navy. We in the military service tend to move a lot. We have to live in all parts of the country, all parts of the world. I wish I could have had the luxury, like you, of growing up and living and spending my entire life in a nice place like the First District of Arizona, but I was doing other things. As a matter of fact, when I think about it now, the place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi.” He went on to win the Republican primary and later, the general election for the seat.
When Barry Goldwater, a longtime U.S. senator from Arizona, retired, McCain saw his opportunity, and ran for the seat. He easily nabbed the Republican nomination, and then won the seat, defeating his opponent, former Arizona State Senator Richard Kimball, 60 to 40 percent, according to The Arizona Republic.
As his career continued, McCain became a popular senator who gained national attention. In 1997, he was named to TIME’s list of the “25 Most Influential Americans.”
That popularity paved the way for his first presidential run in 2000. Though he won the New Hampshire primary and gained momentum throughout the primary season, he lost nine of thirteen Super Tuesday primaries and ended up withdrawing from the race in March. (George W. Bush went on to win the nomination and the presidency.) McCain continued working in the Senate, and in 2006, was diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer, which he recovered from, according to ABC News.
The 2000 campaign wasn’t McCain’s last time running for president. He ran again in 2008, and this time secured the Republican nomination early on in the race, on March 4, according to CNN. Sarah Palin, then the governor of Alaska, was announced as his running mate in August. He lost the general election against President Barack Obama, winning 173 electoral votes to Obama’s 365, and 46 percent of the popular vote, compared to 53 percent for Obama, according to CNN.
He was elected to the Senate for his sixth consecutive term in November 2016.
After undergoing surgery to remove a blood clot near his left eye, McCain revealed on July 19, 2017 that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer. He remained positive in the face of the diagnosis, writing on Twitter: “I greatly appreciate the outpouring of support – unfortunately for my sparring partners in Congress, I’ll be back soon, so stand-by!”