Colin Powell, a former top military officer who rose to become the first Black secretary of state under President George W. Bush, died Monday at age 84 of complications from COVID-19.
“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American,” said his family, who added he was fully vaccinated and and thanked the staff at Walter Reed National Medical Center for treating him. Powell is survived by a wife and three children.
Powell’s career was full of firsts and he served in four Republican administrations. He started his career on combat duty in Vietnam, then became the first Black national security adviser at the end of former President Ronald Reagan’s administration. He was also the youngest and first African American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in former President George H.W. Bush’s administration. As secretary of state under former President George W. Bush, he brought faulty intelligence to the United States in his advocacy for the Iraq War, which stalled his political momentum.
Though he served under Republicans through his career, Powell ultimately endorsed and helped elect Democrats. He endorsed former President Barack Obama in the final stretch of the 2008 campaign season, using his strong reputation among Republicans and Americans of color to help Obama become the first Black president — which was a fate many political observers envisioned for Powell himself. He voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and called Republican candidate and eventual president Donald Trump a “national disgrace and international pariah.” Powell supported President Joe Biden in his ultimately successful run against Trump in 2020, and left the Republican party completely after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
From 2005 until his death, Powell worked as a strategic adviser at capital firm Kleiner Perkins. He gave motivational speeches and wrote a memoir in 2012.