Fully-vaccinated former Secretary of State Colin Powell, 84, dies of COVID complications while battling Parkinson’s and blood cancer: Biden lowers flags and leads tributes to ‘warrior’ foreign policy powerhouse who served four presidents

  • Colin Powell, the first black  secretary of State and Chairman of  the Joint Chiefs, died Monday at age of 84
  • His family announced his passing on Facebook and said it was ‘due to complications from Covid 19’ despite being ‘fully vaccinated’ 
  • When diagnosed with COVID, Powell was already battling blood cancer and living with Parkinson’s
  • Powell is, to this day, the only black man to have ever served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – appointed by George H. W. Bush and serving two years into Bill Clinton’s presidency
  • He rose in the ranks of the Pentagon after first joining the military as part of ROTC during college and serving in Vietnam. He went on to serve as an Army lieutenant after graduation
  • After serving in multiple top-tier positions, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Powell retired as a four star general and went on to serve as Secretary of State
  • Powell is survived by his wife, Alma Powell, and his three children Michael, Linda and Annemarie
  • Alma Powell also had a breakthrough case of coronavirus 

Colin Powell, the first black Secretary of State who formulated foreign policy under several presidents, died Monday morning at the age of 84 of complications from COVID.

The Pentagon powerhouse who served as a soldier in Vietnam and went on to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was fully vaccinated and battling blood cancer and Parkinson’s when he passed away at Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland, according to his family. 

Retired Four-Star General Powell, who was also suffering from Parkinson’s, is survived by his wife of 59 years, Alma, and three children, and has a celebrated career that saw him rise up the military ranks after growing up in a Jamaican immigrant family in Harlem.

Alma Powell also had a breakthrough case of COVID but responded to treatment, according to reports. 

President Joe Biden released a statement shortly after noon on Monday, four hours after his death was announced, commending Powell as having ‘the highest ideals of both warrior and diplomat’ and commemorating his humble beginnings. 

He also ordered all US flags across government buildings and military posts nationwide to fly half staff until October 22.

‘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. ‘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.’

The first black Secretary of State, Colin Powell (left), died Monday at the age of 84 due to complications from COVID-19. He is leaving behind his wife, Alma (right), who also had a breakthrough case of coronavirus
Powell is survived by his wife Alma (pictured) and three children – Michael, Linda and Annemarie. He and Alma met while Powell was stationed in Fort Devens, Massachusetts and got married in 1962

He listed off Powell’s numerous accomplishments both on and off the battlefield, adding: ‘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.’ 

Vice President Kamala Harris also commended Powell on his trailblazing career as the first black Joint Chiefs chair, Secretary of State and national security adviser.

‘What an incredible American. He obviously served with dignity, he served with grace. He was the epitome of what it means to be strong, but at the same time, so modest in terms of everything that he did and said, in a way that it was never about him and it’s about the country, and it was about the people who served with him,’ Harris told reporters aboard Air Force 2.

‘Every step of the way, when he filled those roles, he was – by everything he did and the way he did it – inspiring so many people.’

Powell’s family confirmed his death in a statement on Facebook, but didn’t mention whether he had received a booster shot. It’s also unclear when he was diagnosed with COVID or how long he was hospitalized for, but he had previously been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer that impacts the body’s ability to fight infections. 

‘General Colin L. Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, passed away this morning due to complications from COVID’, his family’s statement said.

‘He was fully vaccinated. We want to thank the medical staff at Walter Reed National Medical Center for their caring treatment. We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American.’ He served under several Republican administrations – including for Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. 

Former Presidents Bush and Carter, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also led tributes from around the world to the larger-than-life figure, who rose from modest means to oversee some of the most significant foreign policy shifts across the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The American flag flies at half-staff above the White House to honor the late Secretary of State Colin Powell 

American flags across the country are flying half staff on Monday to honor Powell’s passing. Joe Biden ordered them to stay at half mast until sunset on October 22

The retired four-star general’s decades-long legacy was marred by a 2003 speech to the United Nations Security Council in which he claimed Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

‘Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of Colin Powell’, they said in a joint statement. ‘He was a great public servant, starting with his time as a soldier during Vietnam.

‘Many Presidents relied on General Powell’s counsel and experience. He was National Security Adviser under President Reagan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under my father and President Clinton, and Secretary of State during my administration.

‘He was such a favorite of Presidents that he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom – twice. He was highly respected at home and abroad.

‘And most important, Colin was a family man and a friend.’

The oldest living former president, Jimmy Carter, 97, also expressed his condolences for his former staffer.

‘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,’ Carter released in a statement. ‘His courage and integrity will be an inspiration for generations to come.’

Powell served in Carter’s Democratic administration as an executive assistant in the Energy and Defense Departments.

His first senior White House role came when Ronald Reagan appointed him to be his national security adviser.

The Reagan Foundation released a statement on Monday declaring Powell’s life to be emblematic of the ‘American Dream.’

A young 1950s Powell shown on left, and on right the most recent image of Powell on September 11, 2021 coming off the stage at the Kennedy Center after speaking at a 9/11 Commemoration concert featuring the National Symphony Orchestra and the United States Marine Band
Powell’s family announced his death on Facebook Monday morning. They said he was fully vaccinated against coronavirus
Powell (second right) poses with his wife Alma (right) and three children – Linda, Michael and Annemarie – at the White House after being appointed as National Security Advisor to Ronald Reagan in 1987
Linda Powell, one of Powell’s daughters, posted this touching family tribute to Instagram after her trailblazing dad’s death

It also credited Powell for helping Reagan bring an end to the Cold War. 

‘With sadness, the Reagan Foundation joins the American people in mourning the loss of Gen. Colin Powell. His life story was, in many respects, a reflection of the American Dream: Raised in the South Bronx as the son of hard-working immigrants, he rose to the highest reaches of our nation’s military and political leadership,’ the late president’s foundation wrote.

‘His wise counsel was indispensable to many of President Reagan’s foreign policy triumphs – most significantly, bringing a peaceful end to the Cold War.

‘President Reagan trusted Colin Powell for his sound and honest advice on what was right for the country. He often shared with friends that he hoped one day Colin Powell would run for president and that, if he did, he would proudly vote for him. 

‘Today, the Reagan Foundation is grateful for Gen. Powell’s extraordinary service, and we extend our deepest condolences to Alma and his family at this difficult time.’ 

The four star general was the first black secretary of State and to this day is the only black man to ever serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

He served under several Republican administrations – including for Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. 

Also, from 1991-1993, he served as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for Bill Clinton after being appointed to the post halfway through Bush Sr’s tenure. 

‘Colin Powell was a courageous soldier, a skilled commander, a dedicated diplomat, and a good and decent man. The son of immigrants, he rose to the top levels of military, civilian, and non-governmental service through intelligence, character, and the ability to see the big picture and attend to the smallest details,’ Clinton said through his spokesman Angel Urena.

‘He lived the promise of America, and spent a lifetime working to help our country, especially our young people, live up to its own ideals and noblest aspirations at home and around the world. Hillary and I send our condolences to Alma, Michael, Linda, Annemarie, the entire Powell family, and all the people whose lives he touched through his service and example.’ 

Former President Barack Obama also weighed in, calling Powell ‘an exemplary soldier and an exemplary patriot.’

‘And although he’d be the first to acknowledge that he didn’t get every call right, his actions reflected what he believed was best for America and the people he served.’

On a personal level, Obama stated he was ‘deeply appreciative’ that Powell not only endorsed him in 2008 but ‘what impressed me more was how he did it.’

‘At a time when conspiracy theories were swirling, with some questioning my faith, General Powell took the opportunity to get to the heart of the matter in a way only he could.’

He recalled a time Powell corrected someone on Obama’s religious faith, and added, ‘What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?’

Obama continued on to say ‘That’s who Colin Powell was.’ 

Current Secretary of State Antony Blinken memorialized his Republican predecessor in a televised address late Monday morning.

Blinken said he was a ‘huge admirer’ of Powell’s and said the late general was always ‘very generous’ with him. 

‘Secretary Powell was, simply and completely, a leader and he knew how to build a strong and united team. He treated people the way he expected them to treat each other and made sure that they knew he would always have their back – the result was that his people would walk through walls for him,’ Blinken said. 

Blinken credited Powell for modernizing the State Department, working to shift American focus to diplomacy-based solutions rather than military might and establishing the Powell Doctrine for military use-of-force.

‘Colin Powell dedicated his life to public service because he never stopped believing in America, and we believe in America in no small part because it helped produce someone like Colin Powell. Thank you, Mr. Secretary,’ he concluded. 

‘The world lost one of the greatest leaders we have ever witnessed,’ Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said when speaking of Powell’s passing on Monday. ‘Alma lost a great husband. And I lost a tremendous personal friend & mentor. He has been my mentor for a number of years. He always made time for me.’  

‘And I can always go to him with tough issues, he always had great, great counsel,’ Biden’s top civilian military leader continued.

Austin paid tribute to the ‘first African American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, first African American Secretary of State, a man who was respected around the globe.’

‘It will be, quite frankly, it is not possible to replace him,’ he said. ‘We will miss him. Again, my thoughts & prayers go out to the family. And we’re deeply, deeply saddened to learn with this.’ 

Austin added that he feels ‘as if I have a hole in my heart.’

Despite being a lifelong Republican, Powell said in June 2020 that he was planning to vote for Joe Biden because Trump ‘drifted away’ from the Constitution and was turned off by the president’s inclination to insult ‘anybody who dares to speak against him’. 

Trump responded to the criticism in a tweet at the time saying: ‘Powell, a real stiff who was very responsible for getting us into the disastrous Middle East Wars, just announced he will be voting for another stiff, Sleepy Joe Biden.’

Powell praised other retired generals who denounced the then-president – specifically in response to the protests that precipitated after the death of George Floyd.

‘I think what we’re seeing now with the most massive protest movement I have ever seen in my life, I think it suggests that the country is getting wise to this and we’re not going to put up with it anymore,’ Powell told CNN at the time.

Powell was born to Jamaican immigrants in New York City and raised in the South Bronx, according to his biography.

He first joined the military as part of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) during college and went on to serve as an Army lieutenant after graduation.  

Politicians and pundits were taken back by the seemingly sudden death.

Rudy Giuliani, former New York City Mayor and personal attorney to Trump, tweeted: ‘Colin Powell was a great American and a good friend.’

‘I was one of a small, but determined group, that urged him to run for President in 1996,’ he added. ‘What if???’

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, whose years-long and sometimes strained relationship with Powell survived both Bush administrations, said he was ‘fortunate’ to have worked with the late Republican.

‘I’m deeply saddened to learn that America has lost a leader and statesman. General Powell had a remarkably distinguished career, and I was fortunate to work with him. He was a man who loved his country and served her long and well,’ Cheney wrote in a statement released by his daughter, GOP Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney.

‘Working with him during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, I saw first-hand General Powell’s dedication to the United States and his commitment to the brave and selfless men and women who serve our country in uniform. Colin was a trailblazer and role model for so many: the son of immigrants who rose to become National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Secretary of State.

‘Lynn and I extend our prayers and profound condolences to his wife, Alma, and to their children. His legacy and unparalleled record of service will never be forgotten.’ 

Richard Grenell, the former Acting Director of National Intelligence under Trump, tweeted: ‘Thank you for your service, former Secretary of State Colin Powell. RIP. And a sincere thank you to your family for their sacrifices, too.’

GOP Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a fellow military veteran, wished Powell’s family well and called the late general ‘legendary.’

‘I was surprised and saddened to hear of the passing of one of the great American leaders of any time, General Colin Powell. His service to our nation was legendary on so many fronts,’ Graham wrote in a series of Twitter posts. ‘General Powell cared deeply about the men and women of the State Department. He is noted as a great military leader, justifiably so, but he also had a passion for diplomacy and the benefits of avoiding war by stabilizing troubled regions.’

‘The men and women of the foreign service never had a better champion. My prayers are with his family and many friends in the days ahead.’ 

Powell served as secretary of State under President George W. Bush from 2001-2005 (pictured with Bush in the Rose Garden less than two weeks after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks)
Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. To this day he is the only black man to have ever held that post (pictured at a press conference with Clinton in September 1994)
Powell got his first senior White House gig when Ronald Reagan named him as his national security adviser (pictured on Thursday, November 5, 1987 in Washington for outgoing Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger)
Powell speaks with then-President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on December 1, 2010
Among the many awards Powell earned over the years was the Presidential Medal of Freedom – twice. Here First Lady Barbara Bush fastens the Medal around Powell’s neck as then-President George H. W. Bush watches in 1991

Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah also weight in.

‘Today, the nation lost a man of undaunted courage and a champion of character,’ he tweeted. ‘A statesmen & trailblazer, devoted to America and the cause of liberty, Colin Powell’s legacy of service & honor will long inspire.’

‘Ann & I offer our love & sincere condolences to Alma and his family.’

House Republican leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California said: Colin Powell leaves behind a distinguished legacy of service. He will be remembered as a man dedicated to country who broke barriers and led an impressive decades-long career serving our nation. We pray for the Powell family as they mourn his loss.’

Senator Ted Cruz lauded Powell’s civilian and military achievements and wished his family well.

‘Heidi and I send our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of General Colin Powell during this time of mourning. As our nation’s first African American Secretary of State, Powell’s life was as historic as it was extraordinary,’ Cruz wrote on Twitter. ‘In his tenure as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff & throughout his remarkable career, General Powell dedicated his life to the defense & security of our nation. We’ll always remember the life & contributions of such a distinguished public servant & a proud American soldier.’

Democratic lawmakers also chimed in to thank Powell for his lifetime of service. Progressive Rep. Maxine Waters of California wrote on Twitter, ‘Colin Powell served as a four-star Army general, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, & Secretary of State. He was a highly accomplished individual who made so many people in this country proud, especially those of us in the Black community. May he rest in peace.’

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: ‘Today, the nation has lost an historic leader who dedicated his life to defending our nation and our families.’

‘The sad loss of Colin Powell is another sad indication of the devastating toll that the coronavirus continues to take on our country. As we pray for the General Powell’s loved ones, we pray for the families of the nearly 725,000 Americans who have been taken from us by this vicious virus.’ 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who like Powell was born and raised in New York, highlighted Powell’s modest beginnings in a Twitter tribute.

‘Colin Powell was born in Harlem, raised in the South Bronx, a product of NYC public schools and CUNY. And he became the first African American to be head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and to be Secretary of State. My thoughts are with his wife Alma and his whole family,’ Schumer wrote.

Stacey Abrams, the first black woman from a major political party to run for governor of Georgia, tweeted: ‘Godspeed to Secretary Colin Powell who led with integrity, admitted fallibility and defended democracy. Deepest condolences to his loved ones and friends.’ 

Powell started his military tenure in the Vietnam War. This photo from 1986 shows him and wife Alma during a farewell ceremony in Frankfurt when Powell was a Lieutenant General
Powell is sworn in as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney (left) in 1989
Powell demonstrating on a map of downtown Baghdad in a 1993 press conference in Iraq. He had continued to serve as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair under the Clinton administration for nearly Clinton’s entire first year
Then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell talks with a soldier who has stomach problems while visiting the Air Transportable Hospital in Saudi Arabia in September 1990

‘My condolences to the family of Colin Powell,’ the Reverend Al Sharpton, a civil rights leader, tweeted.

‘Though we disagreed on many issues, I always respected him and was proud of his achievements,’ the liberal added. ‘When he and I ran into each other and conversed, I always left feeling he was a sincere and committed man to what he believed in.’

New York State Attorney General Letitia James tweeted: ‘General Colin Powell was a proud New Yorker and City College graduate who always put his country first.’

‘Colin Powell will be missed, and my condolences go to his family and loved ones,’ she added. ‘May he rest in peace.’ 

Former Bush Jr. official Robert Charles also responded on Fox Monday morning: ‘He was ever a listener but he is honest as the day is long. This is a man who was his own man and a great leader.’

‘We won’t see the likes of Colin Powell again for a long time,’ he added.

Christine Todd Whitman, who served alongside Powell as a Cabinet secretary in the George W. Bush administration, tweeted: ‘I’m heartbroken. #ColinPowell was a wonderful person, public servant and friend.’

‘We did so much together in our various roles that it’s hard to imagine not seeing him again,’ said Whitman, a former governor of New Jersey.

‘My prayers go out to Alma, his family, and to all whose lives he touched,’ she added.

‘Rest In Peace, friend.’

‘This is hitting me hard,’ wrote Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Jaime Harrison.

The former candidate for a Senate seat in South Carolina added: ‘Colin Powell was a statesman who put his country & family above all else.’

‘As a young Black man, he inspired me & showed that there are no limits to what we can be or achieve,’ Harrison tweeted. ‘Sending my prayers to his family.’