‘American original’: Former US Sen. Orrin Hatch, of Utah, dead at 88

SALT LAKE CITY — Former U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, the longest-serving Republican in Senate history and the longest-serving senator from Utah, died Saturday evening at the age of 88, the Hatch Foundation confirmed.

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Update 12:55 p.m. EDT April 24: In a statement Sunday, President Joe Biden called Sen. Orrin Hatch an “American original” and recalled the three decades they served together in the Senate as friends and adversaries.

“Orrin Hatch once shared in an interview that he had a soft side, and he had a tough side,” Biden said. “To serve with Orrin, as I did for over three decades, was to see -- and appreciate -- both.

“He was the fighter who carried with him the memory of his humble upbringing near Pittsburgh, who never humored a bully, or shied from a challenge,” the President continued. “I saw that energetic, sharp-elbowed Orrin in the many battles we had over tax policy, the right of workers to join a union, and many others.

“At the same time, Senator Hatch was also a man of deep faith; a gentle soul who wrote songs and poems, and shared them with friends, colleagues, and the world,” Biden added. “He was, quite simply, an American original.”

Hatch served in the Senate from 1977 to 2019, longer than any other Republican in the nation’s history, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina served longer but began his career as a Democrat.

He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by then-President Donald Trump shortly before he left office in 2019, the newspaper reported.

Original report: According to the foundation, Hatch died at 5:30 p.m. local time surrounded by family.

“Born the son of a carpenter and plaster lather, he overcame the poverty of his youth to become a United States Senator,” Matt Sandgren, Executive Director of the Hatch Foundation, wrote in a prepared statement.

A cause of death was not provided.

“With the hardships of his upbringing always fresh in his mind, he made it his life’s mission to expand freedom and opportunity for others—and the results speak for themselves. From tax and trade to religious liberty and healthcare, few legislators have had a greater impact on American life than Orrin Hatch,” Sandgren added.

Hatch, who represented Utah for more than four decades, crossed the aisle several times during his lengthy career on issues ranging from stem cell research and children’s health insurance to rights for people with disabilities, The Associated Press reported.

A. Scott Anderson, Chairman of the Hatch Foundation, expressed similar sentiments.

“(Hatch) exemplified a generation of lawmakers brought up on the principles of comity and compromise, and he embodied those principles better than anyone. In a nation divided, Orrin Hatch helped show us a better way by forging meaningful friendships on both sides of the aisle. Today, more than ever, we would do well to follow his example. May we honor Orrin’s memory by living as he lived—committed to our country, to our principles, and to each other,” Hatch Foundation Chairman A. Scott Anderson stated.

Hatch was also noted for his side career as a singer and recording artist of music with themes of his religious faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He is survived by his wife, Elaine, and their six children.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this story.