US leaders on both sides of the political divide have paid tribute to Strom Thurmond, the longest-serving senator in United States history who has died at the age of 100.
Thurmond 'will be written about for decades to come'
Thurmond, renowned for his physical as well as political endurance, retired in January after having served in the Senate since 1954.
US Senate Majority leader Bill Frist, a Republican, described Thurmond as "a close friend, a confidant, a colleague to most of us in this body" and praised him for a life "really unmatched in public service".
Top Democrat and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said that the period in US history Thurmond's career spanned "will be written about and commented about for years and decades to come".
"I think as we consider his contribution... we can say as we consider the opportunity that we had to serve with him - Republicans and Democrats - it was our privilege to do so," he added.
Thurmond died in a hospital in his hometown of Edgefield, South Carolina, family friend Kathy Rainsford told the Reuters news agency.
"His body just stopped. He had got weaker and weaker," she said.
His remarkable political career in public service started with his election to the post of supervisor of education in his home county in 1929.
He went on to be a state senator, judge, army lieutenant during World War II, and governor of South Carolina before being elected to the US Senate.
He ran for president in 1948, before leaving the Democratic party in order to champion the controversial cause of racial segregation and being elected senator an unmatched eight times.
Thurmond's switch from the Democrats to the Republicans was a critical phase in the loss of the century-old Democratic lock on the south.
Years later he softened his tone on the issue of separation of the races, as the so-called "Old South" faded and the civil rights movement grew in momentum.
Thurmond's political past at times came back to haunt him
In the early 1970s he became the first southern US senator to employ black staff members, French news agency AFP reported.
"The law of the state was the separation of the races," Thurmond explained several years later.
"That was the custom and we followed that."
However his past at times came back to haunt him in the political arena.
The former Republican leader in the Senate, Trent Lott, was forced to resign his leadership post after appearing to praise segregation at Thurmond's 100th birthday party last December.
Thurmond is survived by his second wife, Nancy Moore Thurmond, a daughter Julie, sons Strom Jr and Paul.
His first grandchild, a boy, was born only this month.