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John McCain dead at 81

Inside the life of the Republican Senator and Vietnam war hero.

Republican Senator John McCain died Saturday after a fight with brain cancer. He was 81. The son and grandson of admirals, McCain entered the Naval Academy as kind of a screw-up. He graduated fifth from the bottom of his class. Nine years later he was serving in Vietnam when his Navy dive-bomber was shot down over Hanoi.

McCain’s refusal to leave a North Vietnamese prison camp ahead of his fellow POWs—despite almost daily physical torture—made him a living symbol of the fighting man’s moral code.

The power of that story helped McCain fashion a role in American politics as the ultimate straight shooter—the man who would always tell the truth, and who wasn’t afraid to buck his own party for the good of the country.

In reality, McCain was nearly as susceptible to Washington’s problems as he was adamant about fixing them. McCain’s entire public persona was a kind of paradox: at once the Senate’s most irascible member, and its funniest. He was an old-school hawk who broke with his party on torture and detention. And nowhere was McCain more contradictory than on the presidential campaign trail, where he tried to sell himself both as an independent thinker and a movement conservative.