Colin Powell dies

By Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Meg Wagner and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 7:32 p.m. ET, October 18, 2021
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1:18 p.m. ET, October 18, 2021

Biden: Colin Powell "will be remembered as one of our great Americans"

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Then- Secretary of State Colin Powell shakes hands with Then-Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joe Biden, in September 2002 on Capitol Hill.
Then- Secretary of State Colin Powell shakes hands with Then-Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joe Biden, in September 2002 on Capitol Hill. Shawn Thew/AFP/Getty Images

President Biden mourned the loss of Gen. Colin Powell, whom he described as a “good man” and a “dear friend.”

“Jill and I are deeply saddened by the passing of our dear friend and a patriot of unmatched honor and dignity, General Colin Powell,” Biden said in a statement Monday. 

Biden said that in working with Powell, a former national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and secretary of State, was “was always someone who gave you his best and treated you with respect.”

Powell, the President added, “led with his personal commitment to the democratic values that make our country strong,” going on to tout the barriers he broke as a Black man. 

Biden also nodded to their personal friendship over many years, concluding: “He will be remembered as one of our great Americans.”

Read President Biden's full statement below: 

"Jill and I are deeply saddened by the passing of our dear friend and a patriot of unmatched honor and dignity, General Colin Powell. 
The son of immigrants, born in New York City, raised in Harlem and the South Bronx, a graduate of the City College of New York, he rose to the highest ranks of the United States military and to advise four presidents. He believed in the promise of America because he lived it. And he devoted much of his life to making that promise a reality for so many others.
As a Senator, I worked closely with him when he served as National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and as Secretary of State. Over our many years working together – even in disagreement – Colin was always someone who gave you his best and treated you with respect.
Colin embodied the highest ideals of both warrior and diplomat. He was committed to our nation’s strength and security above all. Having fought in wars, he understood better than anyone that military might alone was not enough to maintain our peace and prosperity. From his front-seat view of history, advising presidents and shaping our nation’s policies, Colin led with his personal commitment to the democratic values that make our country strong. Time and again, he put country before self, before party, before all else—in uniform and out—and it earned him the universal respect of the American people.
Having repeatedly broken racial barriers, blazing a trail for others to follow in Federal Government service, Colin was committed throughout his life to investing in the next generation of leadership. Whether through his care for the women and men serving under his command and the diplomats he led, or through the work he shared with his wife Alma at the America’s Promise Alliance to lift up young people, or through his years leading the Eisenhower Fellowships, Colin’s leadership always included a focus on future.
Above all, Colin was my friend. Easy to share a laugh with. A trusted confidant in good and hard times. He could drive his Corvette Stingray like nobody’s business—something I learned firsthand on the race track when I was Vice President. And I am forever grateful for his support of my candidacy for president and for our shared battle for the soul of the nation. I will miss being able to call on his wisdom in the future.
Jill and I are sending all our love and strength to Alma, their children, Linda, Annemarie, and Michael, their grandchildren, and the entire Powell family. Our nation mourns with you.
Colin Powell was a good man.
He will be remembered as one of our great Americans."

1:29 p.m. ET, October 18, 2021

Blinken: "Secretary Powell was simply and completely a leader"

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken remembered the life of former Secretary of State Colin Powell during remarks from the State Department.

"Secretary Powell was simply and completely a leader, and he knew how to build a strong and united team," Blinken said.

"He gave the State Department the very best of his leadership. His experience, his patriotism. He gave us his decency, and the State Department loved him for it," he continued.

Blinken noted how Powell treated his workforce with respect and did not really care for hierarchy.

"Secretary Powell trusted the career workforce here. He empowered them. He made sure that the desk officer, who knew a particular country or issue most deeply, was the one who got to brief him or the President. He told his staff that they didn't need to worry about getting him fancy lunches— hamburgers and hot dogs were just fine. When he hopped on to the elevator, he would pull others on with him. He didn't bother with formalities and he wasn't overly concerned with hierarchy either. He wanted to hear from everyone. He walked around the building, dropping into offices unannounced, asking what people needed, making sure they knew he was counting on them. Secretary Powell was simply and completely a leader and he knew how to build a strong and united team," Blinken said.

Blinken continued, "He treated people the way he expected them to treat each other, and he made sure that they knew he would always have their back. The result was that his people would walk through walls for him."

Powell made history during the Bush administration, becoming the first Black secretary of state. When he was sworn in as Bush's secretary of state in 2001, he became the highest-ranking Black public official to date in the country, standing fourth in the presidential line of succession.

11:54 a.m. ET, October 18, 2021

NYC mayor says Powell was "an example of the greatness of New York City"

From CNN's Laura Ly

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke on the death of Gen. Colin Powell Monday morning, calling him “an example of the greatness of New York City.”

Powell was born to Jamaican immigrants and was raised in Harlem and the Bronx before attending college at The City College of New York in Harlem, de Blasio said.

“We’re particularly going to miss him because he showed the world what New York City is all about – that anyone here, anyone and everyone has the opportunity to be great and that we foster it, we respect it, we believe in each New Yorker. We’re going to miss him a lot and he made us very, very proud,” de Blasio said.
12:13 p.m. ET, October 18, 2021

Powell served as the nation's top diplomat during a turbulent time

From CNN's Devan Cole

In this handout photo provided by the U.S. National Archives, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell meets in the President's Emergency Operations Center after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 in Washington, DC.
In this handout photo provided by the U.S. National Archives, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell meets in the President's Emergency Operations Center after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 in Washington, DC. (David Bohrer/U.S. National Archives/Getty Images)

Colin Powell was former President George W. Bush's first Cabinet selection when he was announced as the 43rd President's nomination for secretary of state, and with his expertise in foreign policy and widespread popularity, he was unanimously confirmed by the Senate.

He shared Bush's reluctance to project military strength across the globe, a view that was quickly displaced by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. As Bush's top diplomat, he was tasked with building international support for the War on Terror, including the Afghanistan War, but it was his involvement in the administration's push for intervention in Iraq, over the concerns of many of America's longtime allies, for which his tenure at State would become best known.

In February 2003, Powell delivered a speech before the United Nations in which he presented evidence that the US intelligence community said proved Iraq had misled inspectors and hid weapons of mass destruction.

"There can be no doubt," Powell warned, "that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more."

Inspectors, however, later found no such weaponry in Iraq, and two years after Powell's UN speech, a government report said the intelligence community was "dead wrong" in its assessments of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities before the US invasion.

But the damage was already done — to both Iraq, which the US went to war with just six weeks after Powell's speech, and to the reputation of the once highly popular statesman, who was reportedly told by Cheney before the UN speech: "You've got high poll ratings; you can afford to lose a few points."

Powell, who left the State Department in early 2005 after submitting his resignation to Bush the previous year, later called his UN speech a "blot" that will forever be on his record.

"I regret it now because the information was wrong — of course I do," he told CNN's Larry King in 2010. "But I will always be seen as the one who made the case before the international community."

"I swayed public opinion, there's no question about it," he added, referring to how influential his speech was on public support for the invasion.

In his 2012 memoir, "It Worked for Me," Powell again acknowledged the speech, writing that his account of it in the book would likely be the last he publicly made.

"I am mad mostly at myself for not having smelled the problem. My instincts failed me," he wrote, referring to the report he used that contained faulty evidence of supposed Iraqi WMDs. "It was by no means my first, but it was one of my most momentous failures, the one with the widest-ranging impact."

"The event will earn a prominent paragraph in my obituary," Powell wrote.

11:24 a.m. ET, October 18, 2021

McConnell: "America has lost a trailblazing leader"

(Win McNamee/Getty Images)
(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell honored former US Secretary of State Colin Powell in a statement today following his passing, saying, "America has lost a trailblazing leader."

"Today we remember and honor a man who truly dedicated his entire life to serving his country," he said in the statement.

Read McConnell's full statement:

“America has lost a trailblazing leader with the passing of Colin Powell. It is hard to imagine a more quintessentially American story: A son of Jamaican immigrants who learned Yiddish from his boyhood neighbors in the Bronx becomes a four-star General in the United States Army and serves four presidential administrations, including as National Security Advisor, the youngest-ever Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the first Black Secretary of State.
As a young officer, General Powell rendered brave and distinguished service on the front lines. As a senior leader, he helped four presidents protect our nation, represent us on the world stage, and chart our course through uncertain and turbulent times that included the dawn of a new century and the beginning of our global war on terrorists who will not leave America alone even if we leave them alone. Today we remember and honor a man who truly dedicated his entire life to serving his country.”
11:59 a.m. ET, October 18, 2021

Soon: Secretary of State Blinken will deliver remarks on Powell's death

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is delivering remarks soon on the death of former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Powell made history during the Bush administration, becoming the first Black secretary of state.

When he was sworn in as Bush's secretary of state in 2001, he became the highest-ranking Black public official to date in the country, standing fourth in the presidential line of succession.

10:51 a.m. ET, October 18, 2021

CNN medical analyst says Powell represented the country's most vulnerable to Covid-19

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

Dr. Jonathan Reiner, CNN medical analyst and professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, said Colin Powell represented the "most vulnerable population" in America.

“General Powell represented our most vulnerable population in this country. He was over the age of 80, he had cancer, and a treatment for his cancer made him vulnerable," Reiner told CNN's Newsroom with Jim Sciutto and Erica Hill.

Powell's family announced his death on Facebook saying he died from complications from Covid-19. He was 84 and had been vaccinated. A source familiar with the matter later told CNN he had multiple myeloma – a cancer of plasma cells that suppresses the body’s immune response.

Reiner said Powell's death emphasized the need for all Americans to get vaccinated, to "protect our treasures" like Powell.

"So, when we try and convince young people who feel that they are low risk from the virus itself why they need to be vaccinated, it’s to protect our treasures, our people like general Powell, our grandparents, because while, you know, a 25-year-old may do quite well with the infection, if they spread it to someone like General Powell, they will not. That is the imperative for vaccination in this country," Reiner said.

Remember: For fully vaccinated Americans, the risk of being hospitalized or dying from Covid-19 is low – much lower than the risk for unvaccinated people. But in those rare cases when a fully vaccinated person gets infected, data suggests it is older adults and those with multiple underlying medical conditions who are most at risk of serious illness. 

10:49 a.m. ET, October 18, 2021

Former Secretary of State Albright: "My heart is sad for I have lost a friend"

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in a statement Monday that Colin Powell “was a wise and principled man, a loyal friend, and one of the kindest people I have ever met.”

“My heart is sad for I have lost a friend,” she said in the statement, which was posted to her Twitter account. “Colin Powell was an American icon whose career in public service will always be celebrated and remembered, but to me he was simply my friend Colin.”

“Although we grew up in different contexts, we bonded over our family’s immigrant stories, our deep love of America, and our belief in the importance of public service,” she said.

“I am a better person for having known him, and America is a better place because of him,” Albright said. “He never forgot that he was a soldier.”

Read the full statement:

10:53 a.m. ET, October 18, 2021

Jimmy Carter calls Powell a "true patriot and public servant"

From left, former President Jimmy Carter, former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell attend a news conference at the White House in September 1994.
From left, former President Jimmy Carter, former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell attend a news conference at the White House in September 1994. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Jimmy Carter, the oldest living former US President, released a statement praising Colin Powell's service and the work they did together to help resolve international conflicts, including in Haiti.

Carter said Powell's "courage and integrity will be an inspiration for generations to come."

Read the full statement:

"Rosalynn and I join so many around the world in mourning the loss of General Colin Powell. A true patriot and public servant, we were honored to work beside him to strengthen communities in the United States, help resolve conflict in Haiti, and observe elections in Jamaica. His courage and integrity will be an inspiration for generations to come. We will keep his family in our prayers during this difficult time."