John McCain, who died on Saturday at the age of 81, was a national figure whose decades of public service and distinctive public persona made him a larger-than-life figure in the increasingly polarized world of American politics.
Mr. McCain was frequently referred to as a “maverick,” an image he cultivated to advance his political goals, including two failed presidential runs. After those defeats, he became known as a conservative lion of the Senate, who — despite his famous temper — believed that partisan disputes and civility could coexist in Washington.
Here is a look at Mr. McCain’s public history.
1967 to 1973: A prisoner of war
Mr. McCain became a high-profile prisoner of war after his Navy plane was shot down over Hanoi in 1967. The son of the commander of American forces in the Pacific, he was held in North Vietnam’s “Hanoi Hilton” prison complex for five and a half years.
Injuries he suffered at the hands of torturers left him with lifelong physical disabilities, but Mr. McCain turned down an offer of early release because he did not want to harm morale among his fellow prisoners or give North Vietnam a propaganda coup.
He was released in 1973. Decades later, as a United States senator, he helped normalize American diplomatic relations with Vietnam.
In 1999, as Mr. McCain embarked on his first presidential run, rumors about possible psychological damage from Vietnam helped prompt the release of his medical records. A doctor who examined him shortly after his release had written that Mr. McCain had “adjusted exceptionally well to repatriation.”
After scandal, a focus on campaign finance reform
Mr. McCain moved to Arizona in 1981, where he won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1982 and the Senate in 1986. He became known as an independently minded conservative, but his involvement in the Keating Five savings-and-loan scandal nearly ended his career.
In the wake of the scandal, Mr. McCain made campaign finance reform one of his signature issues. For several years, he worked alongside Senator Russ Feingold, a liberal Democrat from Wisconsin, to pass the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. Also known as the McCain-Feingold Act, it banned large campaign contributions to national party committees but permitted them to outside groups.
2000: A run for president
Mr. McCain’s long-shot campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000 was propelled largely by his reputation for personal integrity and candor (he called his campaign bus “the Straight Talk Express”). But it fell apart after a brutal and racially charged primary fight in South Carolina.
A smear campaign in South Carolina claimed that Mr. McCain’s adopted Bangladeshi daughter, Bridget, was the product of an extramarital affair between him and a black woman. It also questioned his sexuality, his mental health and whether he had committed treason in North Vietnam.
The whisper campaign helped George W. Bush gain an edge over Mr. McCain, although he denied involvement in the attacks. Mr. McCain dropped out of the race in March 2000 after his loss in South Carolina was compounded by a string of disappointments on Super Tuesday.
2008: Another run for president
Mr. McCain won his party’s presidential nomination in 2008 but failed to match the charisma of the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, and to respond to the outbreak of the financial crisis that spawned the great recession.
He chose Sarah Palin, then the Alaska governor, as his running mate, a bid to inject energy into his campaign that backfired. Ms. Palin’s inexperience raised questions about Mr. McCain’s judgment and highlighted the fact that at 71 he would have been the oldest president to take office.
Mr. McCain’s decision to give a national platform to Ms. Palin contributed to the rise of the Tea Party movement and the emergence of grievance politics and nativism as drivers of the Republican Party. In a 2018 memoir, he wrote that he regretted the decision to pick her.
After 2008, navigating polarization
Tea Party anger and opposition to President Obama moved the Republican Party to the right, and after 2008 Mr. McCain moved with it. His positions on issues like border security and climate change hardened in the face of a right-wing primary challenger, and he won re-election in 2010.
But he returned to bipartisanship as the political environment became more polarized. He worked with a bipartisan group of senators, known as the Gang of Eight, in a failed push for immigration reform and opposed Republican efforts to change the Affordable Care Act by threatening a government shutdown.
The Trump era
Mr. McCain had a strained relationship with Donald J. Trump, who mocked his military service and time as a prisoner of war when he told an audience in 2015: “He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
Mr. McCain endorsed Mr. Trump in 2016, saying he would respect the will of primary voters, but withdrew that endorsement after a video surfaced on which Mr. Trump bragged about sexual assault. Mr. McCain said that neither he nor his wife would vote for Mr. Trump.
Relations between the two men remained rocky for the rest of Mr. McCain’s life. Mr. Trump frequently criticized him at rallies for his decisive vote against a Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, which he revealed with a dramatic thumbs down on the Senate floor.
On Saturday night, Mr. Trump offered his “deepest sympathies and respect” to the McCain family.