McGovern's would-be running mate dies at 77

ST. LOUIS, Mo. - Former U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton, who resigned as a vice presidential nominee in 1972 after it was revealed he had been hospitalized for depression, died Sunday, said a spokeswoman for Sen. Claire McCaskill.

The cause of death was not disclosed. McCaskill spokeswoman Adrianne Marsh said the family was expected to issue a statement later.

"Today Missouri has a hole in its heart," McCaskill said in a statement. "Tom Eagleton managed to be a statesman, an intellectual and a man of the people all at the same time."

Eagleton, 77, had suffered from a variety of illnesses and ailments in recent years.

He served in the Senate representing Missouri from December 1968 through January 1987.

He was George McGovern's vice presidential nominee in 1972, but dropped out after it was revealed that he had been hospitalized for psychiatric treatment and had twice undergone electroshock therapy for depression.

"It's a real loss to the country," McGovern said. "He was a scrapper - he didn't back away from a fight. Yet he was disarming in his dealings with people."

In a telephone interview, McGovern said Sunday he erred in removing Eagleton. He said Democrats could have won the election if he had kept Eagleton on the ticket.

"My first reaction was to say I was going to stay with him," the former South Dakota senator. "But gosh, the outcry across the country was pretty intense. We felt that since we were starting a new campaign we needed to get that off the front page and we needed to get Tom to step down.

"But I think that was a mistake," McGovern said.

In 2003, Eagleton talked about his time in the national spotlight.

"Being vice president ain't all that much," he said. "My ambition, since my senior year in high school, was to be a senator. Not everybody achieves their ambition. I got to the level that I really had no great right to claim."

He said in 2003 that he had not had any symptoms of depression for years and "didn't think it was all that big a deal."

Eagleton is survived by his wife, Barbara Ann Smith Eagleton, whom he married in 1956, a son and a daughter.