Former Senator George McGovern, whose anti-Vietnam War stance in his 1972 presidential race against Richard Nixon led to one of the worst electoral defeats in U.S. history, died on Sunday at the age of 90, his family said.
McGovern had been admitted to a South Dakota hospice suffering from a combination of medical conditions due to age that had worsened in recent months.
The McGovern family said he died Sunday morning at Dougherty Hospice House in Sioux Falls, surrounded by family and friends.
McGovern had been hospitalized several times in the past year after complaining of fatigue after a book tour, a fall before a scheduled television appearance, and dizzy spells.
"We are blessed to know that our father lived a long, successful and productive life advocating for the hungry, being a progressive voice for millions and fighting for peace," a statement released by his family said.
"He continued giving speeches, writing and advising all the way up to and past his 90th birthday, which he celebrated this summer."
McGovern, who served in the Senate for South Dakota from 1963 to 1981, challenged Nixon in 1972 on a platform opposing the war in Vietnam. He suffered one of the most lopsided defeats in U.S. history, taking only 37.5 percent of the vote and carrying only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.
Later, as Nixon's presidency unraveled in the Watergate scandal, bumper stickers saying, "Don't blame me, I'm from Massachusetts," and buttons saying "Don't blame me, I voted for McGovern," began to appear.
But McGovern's legacy stretches well beyond his terms in Congress and presidential bids, to social issues, including world hunger and AIDS, said Donald Simmons, director of the McGovern Center for Leadership and Public Service at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, South Dakota.
"Outside of the U.S., he is known for his real humanitarian efforts and I think that will be one of his greatest long-term legacies," Simmons said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
The son of a Methodist minister, McGovern was born July 19, 1922, in Avon, South Dakota, and his family moved six years later to Mitchell, where he graduated from high school in 1940.
McGovern flew combat missions over Europe as a B-24 bomber pilot during World War Two, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross.
He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1956, and re-elected two years later. After McGovern lost a U.S. Senate election in 1960, President John F. Kennedy named him the first director of the Food for Peace Program.
He also ran for president in 1968 after the assassination of front-runner Robert F. Kennedy and entertained a short-lived bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984.
McGovern said he had moved on from his 1972 defeat, but when another defeated Democratic presidential candidate, Walter Mondale, asked him in 1984 how long it took to get over losing in a landslide, McGovern replied: "I'll let you know when I get there."
As a soft-spoken academic from South Dakota - he was a history and political science professor at Dakota Wesleyan University - and a decorated pilot, McGovern did not fit the model of many of the leaders of the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
He became a campaigner for world food issues in his post-politics life. He wrote several books, including an autobiography, the story of his daughter's struggle with alcoholism, and "What it Means to Be a Democrat," which was released last year.
McGovern also continued to make television appearances and write editorials and commentaries and often lamented what he saw as a lack of a true public debate on policy issues from members of both parties.
In 2000, President Bill Clinton awarded McGovern the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor.
McGovern's family has encouraged people to give to the charity Feeding South Dakota (www.feedingsouthdakota.org) if they wish to offer donations in memory of the senator.
McGovern and his wife Eleanor, who died in 2007, had five children.
Services will be held in Sioux Falls, the family said. Details will be announced shortly.