John Dingell, longest-serving member of U.S. Congress, dead at 92

WASHINGTON, Feb 7 (Reuters) - John Dingell, a gruff Michigan Democrat who entered the U.S. House of Representatives in 1955 to finish his late father's term and became a legislative heavyweight and longest-serving member of Congress, died on Thursday. He was 92.

The former lawmaker's wife, Debbie Dingell, who was elected to succeed him, was with him when he died peacefully at home in Michigan, her office said.

"He was a lion of the United States Congress and a loving son, father, husband, grandfather, and friend. He will be remembered for his decades of public service to the people of Southeast Michigan, his razor sharp wit, and a lifetime of dedication to improving the lives of all who walk this earth," Debbie Dingell's office said.

The Detroit News reported he was in hospice care after being diagnosed with prostate cancer, which he had decided not to treat.

Dingell served 59 years in the House before retiring in 2015 because, as he said to a Michigan business group at the time, he could no longer "live up to my own personal standard" for serving in Congress.

Rep. John Dingell through the years
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Rep. John Dingell through the years
UNITED STATES - MARCH 31: PATIENTS BILL OF RIGHTS--John D. Dingell,D-Mich., during House and Senate Democrats press conference to introduce the managed care bill. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 01: Rep. John Dingell at International Investors Conference. (Photo by Karl Schumacher/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
3/15/1983- Washington, DC: Closeup at press conference of Congressman John Dingell.
FILE - In this June 2, 1977 file photo, President Jimmy Carter hosts a breakfast in the Family Dining Room of the White House in Washington for House Subcommittee members on Energy and Power. From left are Rep. John M. Murphy (D-N.Y.), Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), President Carter, Rep. Harley Staggers (D-W Va.), Rep. Andrew Maguire (D-N.J.), and Rep. Timothy Wirth (D-Colo.). Fifty seven years ago, Rep. John Dingell, who this week becomes the longest serving member of Congress in history, nearly began his career in tears on the floor of the House. Members were delivering tributes to his father, John Dingell Sr., who had died recently. (AP Photo/Charles Harrity, File)
Congressman John Dingell in camouflage during geese hunting expedition. (Photo by Kenneth Garrett/Woodfin Camp/Woodfin Camp/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Washington, DC: President Reagan reaches for a pen to sign legislation, January 6, to bail out the farm credit system, providing the first federal aid to the nation's largest agriculture lender since the Great Depression. Behind Reagan, pushing in his chair for him are, from left, Senator Patrick Leahy (Democrat - Vermont); Representative John Dingell (Democrat - Michigan); and Representative James Jeffords (Republican - Vermont.)
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., comments on President Jimmy Carter during an interview in his Capitol Hill office on June 12, 1979. Carter arrived in Washington as an outsider and remains an outsider to Washington politics. Dingell is nevertheless a supporter of the president. (AP Photo/John Duricka)
House Energy Comm. Chmn. Rep. John Dingell (Dem-MI) in his Capitol Hill office. (Photo by Terry Ashe/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 28: PROFILE:John D. Dingell,D-Mich.,in his office at Rayburn House Office Building. (Photo by Douglas Graham/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
Rep. John David Dingell, D-Mich., House of Representatives Member, having a front row seat during panel discussion on the first day of the Democratic Party retreat. March 8, 1991 (Photo by Maureen Keating/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 11: TELELCOMMUNICATIONS PROVISIONS--During his opening statement, ranking member John Dingell, D-Mich., right, jokes with Chairman Tom Bliley, R-Va., during full Commerce Committee markup of FY98 budget provision dealing with spectrum sales. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo., is in foreground. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 19: PATIENTS' RIGHTS--John D. Dingell, D-Mich., Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., middle, and Greg Ganske, R-Iowa, during a news conference on the Senate patients' rights bill. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 06: Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., House Energy and Commerce ranking Democrat John D. Dingell, D-Mich., and House Ways and Means ranking Democrat Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., during a news conference on the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, which was created by the Republican-controlled Congress in 2003 and is now being implemented. Seniors have until May 15 to sign up for a Medicare prescription drug plan without being charged a penalty. Democrats say the deadline should be extended to allow seniors, as Capps put it, to 'navigate this complicated maze of rules and regulations' fraught with 'mixed messages and mass confusion.' Dingell was a member of the House in 1965 when Congress launched the Medicare health care program for the elderly and disabled. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (L)(D-CA) is given a box of paczki, a traditional pastry commonly eaten on Fat Tuesday, from the Chene Modern Bakery in Detroit from Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (R)(D-MI) on Feburary 5, 2007 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO / TIM SLOAN (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 28: Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., and his wife Debbie Dingell, attend the Susan G. Komen for the Cure's Honoring the Promise benefit at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on October 28, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - JULY 29: Former Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., wields the gavel he used when he presided over the vote to pass Medicare in 1965 during the House Democrats' event to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid on Wednesday, July 29, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Dingell served as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee for 16 years, where he pushed major legislation, including the breakup of telecommunications firm AT&T, cable deregulation, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act.

He also played an important role in passing the legislation leading to Medicare, the health insurance program for elderly Americans, in 1965, and the Affordable Care Act in 2010, popularly known as Obamacare.

Dingell did not win all of his legislative fights. He opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was approved in 1993.

In his later years as a legislator, Dingell navigated Capitol Hill in a motorized scooter bearing a vanity plate emblazoned with the words "THE DEAN," the title for the longest-serving member of the House.

Well after leaving Congress, he remained popular, deploying his wit in posts on Twitter.

Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow wrote in a post on Twitter: "We have been incredibly lucky to have you and will miss you dearly."

On Wednesday, Dingell's wife said on Twitter that she skipped Tuesday's State of the Union address in Washington to be with him as his health declined.

On Wednesday, Dingell dictated a tweet for his wife to write: "I want to thank you all for your incredibly kind words and prayers. You're not done with me just yet."

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Eric Beech and Makini Brice; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Bill Trott and Peter Cooney)

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