Veteran United States Senator and gay rights advocate Ted Kennedy has died. He was 77.

A statement on his website announced he had passed away.

“Edward M. Kennedy—the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply—died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port.

“We’ve lost the irreplaceable centre of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever.

“We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all.

“He loved this country and devoted his life to serving it. He always believed that our best days were still ahead, but it’s hard to imagine any of them without him.”

Two of Senator Kennedy’s brothers were assassinated: President John F Kennedy in 1963 and former Attorney-General and Presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy in 1968.

Edward Kennedy had represented Massachusetts in the US Senate since 1962 and was a strong supporter of gay rights, most recently he had been calling for an end to the ban on gays in the military.

He also introduced legislation to expand federal hate crime laws to include crimes where the victims were targeted on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, and disability.

Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a group that works to increase the number of LGBT people in elected office, said he was a fighter for LGBT rights.

“Good men serve others but great men take care to serve the least fortunate,” Victory Fund President and CEO Chuck Wolfe said.

“Senator Kennedy was a great man. He made a career of fighting for the poor, for women, for racial minorities, and for basic human rights for LGBT Americans.

“Senator Kennedy’s life was marked by generosity and a legendary tenacity that earned him the respect of his colleagues and the affection of the public he served.

“But he will always occupy a special place in the hearts of LGBT Americans, who saw in him a fierce champion for their full equality.”

In a statement President Obama said he and his wife Michelle are “heartbroken” by the the death of Senator Kennedy.

“For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts,” he said.

“I valued his wise counsel in the Senate, where, regardless of the swirl of events, he always had time for a new colleague.

“I cherished his confidence and momentous support in my race for the Presidency.

“And even as he waged a valiant struggle with a mortal illness, I’ve profited as President from his encouragement and wisdom.

“An important chapter in our history has come to an end.

“Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States Senator of our time.

“And the Kennedy family has lost their patriarch, a tower of strength and support through good times and bad.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to them today.”