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Rep. Tom Lantos of California dies at 80

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  • NEW: Secretary of state calls Rep. Tom Lantos "a true American hero"
  • Lantos was only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress
  • California congressman disclosed last month he was suffering from cancer
  • Lantos had said he would not seek re-election to 15th term in House
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Rep. Tom Lantos, the Democratic chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, died Monday due to complications from cancer, his office said. Lantos was 80.

Rep. Tom Lantos represented his Northern California district for 14 terms.

He died at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, surrounded by his wife, Annette, daughters Annette and Katrina and many of his 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, according to his office.

Lantos' life was "defined by courage, optimism, and unwavering dedication to his principles and to his family," said his wife, Annette, his childhood sweetheart, in a statement the House of Representatives released.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday that she was "quite devastated" by the death of her "dear, dear friend."

She called him "a true American hero" and "the genuine article." "He's going to be really, really missed," she said.

Rice described Lantos as "the embodiment of what it meant to have one's freedom denied and then to find it and to insist that Americans stand for spreading the benefits of freedom and prosperity to others."

Lantos, who was serving his 14th term in the House, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in December. He announced last month that he would not seek a new term.

"It is only in the United States that a penniless survivor of the Holocaust and a fighter in the anti-Nazi underground could have received an education, raised a family and had the privilege of serving the last three decades of his life as a member of Congress," Lantos said in a statement at the time.

"I will never be able to express fully my profoundly felt gratitude to this great country." Video Watch Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid remember Lantos »

The lawmaker is the only Holocaust survivor to have served in Congress.

The Hungarian-born Lantos came to the United States in 1947 after surviving a forced-labor camp in his Nazi-allied homeland. He escaped and was sheltered in a Budapest safe house set up by Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who was credited with saving tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II.

He arrived in the United States after being awarded an academic scholarship to study, according to his congressional Web site. He received bachelor's and master's degrees in economics from the University of Washington in Seattle and later earned a doctorate in economics from the University of California, Berkeley, the site said.

As a lawmaker, Lantos was an outspoken human rights advocate. He supported the 2002 congressional resolution that authorized President Bush to launch the invasion of Iraq but later became an outspoken critic of the conflict.


He was the latest of more than a dozen members to announce plans to leave the House at the end of the year, most of them Republicans. His San Francisco-area district is solidly Democratic, and he won re-election with more than three-quarters of the vote in 2006.

"Chairman Lantos will be remembered as a man of uncommon integrity and sincere moral conviction -- and a public servant who never wavered in his pursuit of a better, freer and more religiously tolerant world," House Republican Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri said in a statement. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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