Colin Powell, a former U.S. Army General who served as the first black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then as the first black Secretary of State, died on Monday at the age of 84.
Powell’s family announced his death on Monday morning, saying Powell died of “complications from Covid 19.” However, Powell’s aide, Peggy Cifrino, later said Powell had battled multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, for multiple years, the Associated Press reported. Multiple myeloma inhibits healthy cells, making it harder to fight infections.
“General Colin L. Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, passed away this morning due to complications from Covid 19,” the statement read. “He was fully vaccinated. We want to thank the medical staff at Walter Reed National Medical Center for their caring treatment. We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American.”
According to a State Department biography, Powell was born in New York City in 1937 to Jamaican-American parents. He joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at the City College of New York and then commissioned as an Army officer upon graduating.
Powell went on to serve in the Vietnam War. He would go on to serve as National Security Advisor from 1988 until 1989. In 1989 Powell was promoted to the rank of general and President George H.W. Bush appointed him as the first black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during which time he oversaw 28 crises, including Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
On December 16, 2000, President George W. Bush nominated Powell to serve as the U.S. Secretary of State. Powell was the first black man to hold the role of Secretary of State and served in the position before resigning on November 15, 2004 and leaving the office in early 2005.
Powell’s resignation as Secretary of State came after he gave a speech at the United Nations in February of 2003, endorsing U.S. intelligence reports that then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was keeping weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq. Powell endorsed U.S. military intervention in Iraq and within 6 weeks of his speech, the U.S. invasion of Iraq had begun.
Inspectors ultimately found no sign of the WMDs Powell described in his U.N. speech and Powell said he saw the U.N. speech as a “blot” on his record. In 2010, Powell told CNN’s Larry King he regretted speaking in favor of the Iraq WMD claims.
“I regret it now because the information was wrong — of course I do,” he told King. “But I will always be seen as the one who made the case before the international community.”
After his time as Secretary of State, Powell went on to work in the private sector. He served on the Boards of Directors of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Eisenhower Fellowship Program, and the Powell Center at the City College of New York.
While he was a registered Republican from 1995 to 2021, Powell endorsed Democrat President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential run and again for his 2012 re-election. Powell also endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016. Powell also endorsed President Joe Biden in 2020.
In 2019, Powell criticized President Donald Trump’s foreign policy and accused the Republican Party of being too intimidated by Trump to act as a check against him. Powell said Republicans “need to get a grip, and when they see things that are not right they need to say something about it, because our foreign policy is in shambles right now, in my humble judgment.”
After endorsing Biden in 2020, Powell said “I certainly cannot, in any way, support President Trump this year.” Trump responded by calling Powell “a real stiff who was very responsible for getting us into the disastrous Middle East Wars.”
On Monday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the first black man to hold the title, tweeted, “It will be impossible to replace Gen. Colin Powell. He was a tremendous personal friend and mentor to me, and there’s a hole in my heart right now as I think about his loss. My thoughts and prayers today are with his family, and I want them to know I will miss him dearly.”