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By Nick Romano
August 25, 2018 at 08:41 PM EDT
Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

John McCain, the feisty Republican senator from Arizona who was the GOP presidential nominee in 2008, died Saturday after a battle with brain cancer, his family announced. He was 81.

News came out in July 2017 that McCain had been diagnosed with a type of brain tumor called primary glioblastoma, which had been discovered when he underwent surgery to remove a blood clot. He subsequently pursued treatment, but his family announced in a statement Friday that he decided to discontinue these efforts due to “the progress of disease and the inexorable advance of age.”

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While he will be remembered as a GOP maverick and war hero who spent more than five years as a prisoner during Vietnam, McCain had a lighter side. As evidenced by a 2008 interview with EW, McCain loved pop culture. He was a fan of ABBA, Usher, Batman, Seinfeld, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, and believed that Marlon Brando’s best performance was in 1952’s Viva Zapata!. “Go back and watch the scene of his wedding night, with [Brando] and Jean Peters — the actress who later married Howard Hughes, who made her give up acting — when she teaches him to read by taking out the Bible and reading it with him,” he said. “That’s a poignant scene.”

McCain also made a few memorable entertainment-related appearances of his own. He hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live in October 2002 with musical guests the White Stripes, and he later made two cameo appearances in 2008 opposite hosts Ben Affleck and Steve Carell — one where he featured opposite Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin.

That same year, he released a what some might say odd promo for WWE Raw about taking Osama Bin Laden “to the Undertaker,” and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama fighting in the ring.

McCain was also involved with a television movie adaption of his Faith of My Fathers book, which chronicled his time as a POW. Fox’s 24 and NBC’s Parks and Recreation are also on his résumé.

“It’s one of my favorite shows… I’m a fan, it’s hilarious,” McCain said of the Amy Poehler-fronted comedy. “The whole schtick about an election, and being elected and now coming to Washington,” he added. “And of course, Amy is such a talented actress. My experience with her goes back to hosting Saturday Night Live a long time ago.”

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He was also a fan of his daughter Meghan McCain’s work on The View, where he was frequently a topic of discussion. The conservative commentator broke down during her first day on the job as the show’s new host when her father’s cancer diagnosis came up. “I can’t believe I’m freaking crying already,” she said. “When you hear cancer, a nuclear bomb goes off in your life. No matter who you are. I didn’t realize how intense and disruptive and scary and hopeless and chaotic you would feel all day long.” Her dad was watching and tweeted his support: Congratulations @MeghanMcCain on your first day on @TheView,” he wrote. “Our family couldn’t be prouder of all that you continue to accomplish.”

Meghan also shared an emotional moment with former Vice President Joe Biden on The View, who lost his son, Beau Biden, in 2015 from the same cancer McCain was diagnosed with. When she teared up while discussing her dad’s condition, Biden comforted her, addressed all the scientific advances being made in the fight against cancer, and said, “If anybody can make it,” it would be her father. “Her dad is one of my best friends,” continued Biden. “Her dad goes after me, hammer and tong. We’re like two brothers who were somehow raised by different fathers or something, because of our points of view.” After the sweet exchange, McCain tweeted his thanks to Biden and his family for “serving as an example of source and strength for my own family.”

McCain’s time in the political arena proved controversial at times. He was of the life-begins-at-conception mindset, but in 1999 he said he “would not support the repeal” of Roe v. Wade, citing the “illegal and dangerous operations” women would be exposed to if that happened. He opposed affirmative action, saying he’s always been “against quotas.” He also once called it a “sad day” that LGBTQ servicemen and woman could serve openly in the military, but, as NBC News reported in 2016, he opposed GOP efforts to attack LGBTQ rights.

His most controversial move, arguably, was pursuing the presidency in 2008 with Sarah Palin as his running mate. After losing the race to Obama, he fell back away from the spotlight. Though, he re-emerged over the years and gained more public favor when he became an unexpected opposition to the Trump administration — while the president of the United States continued badmouthing him. The same month McCain was diagnosed with cancer, he helped thwart the GOP’s plans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

“I’m very happy with my life,” McCain told CNN’s Jake Tapper after his cancer was made public. “I’m very happy with what I have been able to do,” he said. “And there’s two ways of looking at these things and one of them is to celebrate. I am able to celebrate a wonderful life and I will be grateful for additional time that I have. Every life has to end one way or another… So you’ve got to have joy.”

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