WASHINGTON — In a town where few events ever truly break through the thick layer of partisanship, the death of Beau Biden on Saturday night unleashed an outpouring of sorrow.
Biden, the son of Vice President Joe Biden, died Saturday night after battling brain cancer for nearly two years. His death at the age of 46 ended a political career in Delaware and left his wife and two children without a spouse and father.
In an unusually lengthy and emotional statement Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry, a longtime friend of the Biden family, called Biden a “class act, period, ingrained with integrity, compassion, a sense of moral obligation to help others, and especially people who were hurting.”
Kerry’s statement echoed the sense of deep sadness for the vice president that flowed through most of the reaction. The elder Biden lost his first wife and young daughter in a car crash in 1972 and now must lay his eldest son to rest.
Similar expressions came quickly from top Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, and Harry Reid, the top Democrat in the Senate. Former president Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former secretary of state, each shared their anguish on Twitter.
“Hillary & I mourn the loss of Beau Biden — so full of life, love, honor, and service — and we pray for the strength of his wonderful family,” Bill Clinton wrote shortly after Biden’s death was announced by the vice president’s office Saturday night.
President Obama said Saturday Biden had been a “good, big-hearted, devoutly Catholic and deeply faithful man.” On Sunday, out of respect for Biden’s family, the White House canceled a reception that Obama was scheduled to hold on behalf of Ford’s Theater.
The sense of grief came from Republicans, too.
Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida and a likely presidential hopeful, offered his prayers for the vice president and his family. Liz Cheney, the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, extended the family’s “deepest sympathy and heartfelt prayers.”
Donald Trump offered condolences to the vice president for “the loss of his wonderful son, Beau. Met him once, great guy!” And Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2008, noted Biden’s service in the Iraq War and said she had enjoyed spending time with his family when she debated his father during that campaign.
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer,” Palin wrote, quoting the Bible’s Psalm 18:2. “My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
Celebrities, too, used Twitter to communicate their emotions, often directing their support to the vice president.
“My heart is broken 4 Vice President of the United States,” wrote Cher, the singer and actress. “The 1 thing I know about Joe is, He prizes family above all else.”
She ended her post with emojis of a heart and two hands pressed together.
Mia Farrow, the actress, wrote: “So sad for the Biden family. Everyone loved Beau.”
The surge of reaction on Twitter was a testament to the cheer and good will that the elder Biden has earned over decades in the public spotlight. Where some politicians earn reputations for playing hardball politics, Biden has long been seen as a kind of happy warrior, always smiling.
In his statement Sunday, Kerry quoted the vice president as once saying that after losing a loved one “there is a black hole you feel in your chest, like you’re being sucked back into it.” But Kerry added that “Joe has also said there comes a day ‘when the thought of your son or daughter, or your husband or wife, brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eyes.’ ”
“As usual,” Kerry wrote, “Joe said it better than anyone else could.”