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Former Sen. Paul Simon Dies - by Fox News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. Paul Simon (search), the bow-tie-wearing missionary's son who rose from crusading newspaper owner to two-term U.S. senator and presidential aspirant, died Tuesday, a day after undergoing heart surgery. He was 75.

Simon was surrounded by family members at St. John's Hospital in Springfield when he died, according to a statement from Southern Illinois University (search), where Simon started a public policy institute after his retirement.

"He was a brilliant senator with a flair for grass-roots politics, a reformer to the core, and the conscience of the Senate, never hesitating to hold the Senate to its highest ideals," said U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. "In another era, he would have been a founding father."

Simon had a single bypass and heart valve surgery Monday at St. John's Prairie Heart Institute (search), where he also underwent heart surgery in 1999. The cause of death was extensive bowel ischemia, in which blood stopped flowing to the intestines, causing the release of toxins into into the body, said Dr. James Dove, the founder and president of the institute.

Eventually, all of Simon's organs shut down, Dove said.

The southern Illinois Democrat's political career began with his election to the state Legislature in 1954 and culminated with his election to the U.S. Senate in 1984. He retired from Congress in 1997.

Simon announced in 1987 that he was seeking the Democratic nomination for president the following year. He suspended his campaign in April 1988 after having won only his home state's primary.

"I leave the field of active campaigning with no regrets for having made the race," he said, "because it has been an exhilarating experience to get to know our nation better." He later wrote a book about the campaign, "Winners and Losers."

As a presidential contender, Simon wasn't averse to poking a bit of fun at himself. In 1987, the candidate and same-named singer Paul Simon pretended confusion over who was guest host of the NBC comedy show "Saturday Night Live."

"It's a comedy show and it's a music show, so it's got to be me," Simon the singer said.

The senator responded that he just wished "somebody had told me sooner. I've been rehearsing since Thursday."

When Simon announced in late 1994 that he would not seek a third Senate term, he said: "I have an obligation to the people of Illinois, to the Senate and to myself to leave the Senate while I am still eager to serve, not after I tire of serving."

He said he enjoyed campaigning and making policy but not fund-raising, estimating he would have had to spend a third of his time raising money if he had decided to run in 1996.

Illinoisans elected Rep. Richard Durbin, a onetime Simon aide, to succeed Simon in the Senate.

Simon was a bespectacled, slightly rumpled man with a strong reputation for honesty, a politician who began disclosing his personal finances in the 1950s. He had the sober, straight-laced bearing of a Sunday school teacher and wrote 13 books.

Simon blended fiscal conservatism and social liberalism. Raised during the Depression, the son of a Lutheran minister, he saw the great needs facing the country and how government responded through New Deal programs.

"Government is not the enemy," he said in 1988. "Government is simply a tool that can be used wisely or unwisely. ... We can do better, my friends."

His family struggled, though not as much as others. "I learned that you have to be careful with money," he said.

That explained his reputation as a "pay-as-you-go" Democrat who would rather raise taxes than rely on deficit financing -- and why he so long championed a balanced budget amendment.

"To be a liberal doesn't mean you're a wastrel," said Simon, citing the words of a political mentor, Sen. Paul Douglas of Illinois.

In the Senate, Simon helped overhaul the federal student loan program to enable students and their families to borrow directly from the government.

As a crusader against television violence, Simon successfully pushed the industry to monitor the amount of violence on the screen.

Simon was just 19 when, in 1948, he dropped out of college, borrowed $3,600 and bought a failing weekly newspaper in Troy, a town of about 1,500 across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. He became the nation's youngest editor-publisher.

His blasts at crime and corruption did not make waves until Gov. Adlai Stevenson took notice and ordered a series of state police raids. Simon's role put his name in the pages of Life and Newsweek.

Even as a lawmaker, he remained loyal to his roots in journalism, banging out a weekly newspaper column on an old-fashioned manual typewriter. Simon eventually owned 14 newspapers and sold the group in 1966.

Simon was born Nov. 29, 1928, in Eugene, Ore., shortly after his parents returned from China, where his father was a missionary. He enrolled in the University of Oregon in 1945 at age 16, transferring to Dana College in Blair, Neb., in 1946 when his parents moved to southern Illinois.

In 1953, Simon decided to run for the Illinois Legislature. Though he declared himself a Republican and endorsed Thomas E. Dewey over Harry Truman in a 1948 editorial, Simon made a fundamental concession to the local political climate: He ran as a Democrat.

The reform-minded Simon soon was nicknamed "Reverend" in Springfield and scored some legislative triumphs, including Illinois' first open-meetings law. He later served in the state Senate.

Simon won election as lieutenant governor in 1968. He appeared headed for the top office when Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley tapped Simon for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1972 against a Republican incumbent who had enacted Illinois' first state income tax.

But an anti-Daley backlash blunted the Democratic machine's strength in Chicago, and corporate lawyer Dan Walker defeated Simon in the party primary.

Simon spent the next two years lecturing at universities. His political return came in 1974 when he went to the U.S. House representing far Southern Illinois.

In 1984, he took on three-term GOP Sen. Charles Percy, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and won by a 50-48 margin. He accused Percy of lying and portrayed the millionaire senator as the candidate "of country clubs and board rooms."

Six years later, Simon seemed to face a difficult re-election battle against GOP Rep. Lynn Martin. But her campaign was a disaster, and Simon won with 65 percent of the vote.

After he retired from Congress in 1997, he taught at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, near his hometown of Makanda, and ran the Public Policy Institute, a bipartisan think tank he founded.

Simon married Jeanne Hurley in 1960, when she was one of Illinois' few female state representatives. She died in February 2000. In May 2001, he married Patricia Derge, a 54-year-old widow. Along with his wife, survivors include a daughter, Sheila; a son, Martin; and a stepdaughter, Jennie Derge.

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