Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Former Secretary of State Muskie Dies at 81

WASHINGTON -- Former secretary of state Edmund Muskie died early Tuesday at Georgetown University Hospital after suffering a heart attack. He was 81.

He underwent successful surgery last week to clear a blocked artery in his leg, but suffered a heart attack a few days later while still in the hospital, said his assistant, Carole Parmelee of the law firm Chadbourne and Parke. Muskie died early Tuesday morning, said hospital spokeswoman Lauren Shaham.

A former governor and longtime senator from Maine, Muskie joined the law firm in 1981 after serving as secretary of state under President Jimmy Carter.

In 1972, Muskie was an early favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination but lost to George McGovern.

He first gained national prominence in 1968, when Democratic presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey chose him as running mate. They lost to Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew.

Muskie, whose efforts to curb air and water pollution won him the nickname "Mr. Clean," was a leading voice on domestic issues during his years as senator from Maine from 1959 to 1980. He considered it ironic that his final months in public life were spent as secretary of state under Carter.

"It's funny," he once confided to an interviewer. "Of all the jobs I've been ambitious for, this is one that never crossed my mind."

Given his ambitions earlier in his career, Muskie's selection as secretary of state seemed almost a consolation prize: He came within an eyelash of becoming vice president in 1968 and was the odds-on favorite when he set out for the Democratic presidential nomination four years later.

Campaigning in the New Hampshire primary, Muskie was speaking from a flatbed trailer outside the Manchester, New Hampshire, Union-Leader newspaper, denouncing a story critical of his wife, when he broke down in angry emotion. The episode came to symbolize the collapse of his quest for the White House. Senator George McGovern of South Dakota ultimately won the nomination and Muskie quietly resumed his duties in the Senate.

Years later, an acquaintance suggested that one reason Muskie left a Senate seat to become secretary of state may have been his desire to wipe the New Hampshire incident from the national memory. Muskie said he took the job to liberate himself from his Senate duties.

Following his retirement from politics, Muskie became a partner in a Washington law firm, dividing his time between Washington, D.C., and his vacation home in Kennebunk.

His rugged craggy look, his lanky 6-foot-4 frame and his modest manner caught the imagination, and he impressed onlookers by inviting hecklers to share the speaking platform with him.

Blessed with personal magnetism, a dry sense of humor and a fine speaking voice, his performance stirred talk that he measured up as a Democratic presidential candidate.

Muskie won the primary, but without the clear majority his managers had forecast over .

"They were looking for a strong, steady man, and here I was weak."

"It changed people's minds about me, of what kind of guy I was," he later told author Theodore White.