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Politics

Charles Kennedy, Former Lib Dem Leader, Dies Aged 55

Kennedy was the party's most successful leader but lost his seat in last month's general election. His death was announced early on Tuesday morning.

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The Scottish politician died at his home in Fort William on Monday, according to his family. Police said the death is not believed to be suspicious.

"It is with great sadness, and an enormous sense of shock, that we announce the death of Charles Kennedy," Kennedy's family said in a statement issued to the BBC.

"Charles died at home in Fort William yesterday. He was 55. We are obviously devastated at the loss. Charles was a fine man, a talented politician and a loving father to his young son.

"We ask therefore that the privacy of his family is respected in the coming days. There will be a postmortem and we will issue a further statement when funeral arrangements are made."

Kennedy served as an MP for Ross, Cromarty and Skye until May's general election, when he lost the seat to the SNP's Ian Blackford.

He was first elected in 1983 and went on to lead the Liberal Democrats between 1999 and 2006. During this period he led the party to its best ever electoral performance at the 2005 general election and made his name by opposing the Iraq war and university tuition fees.

But Kennedy struggled with alcohol and was forced out as leader when it was clear he had lost the support of his colleagues.

His death leaves behind one son, Donald, with his ex-wife, Sarah Gurling.

Politicians from all parties paid tribute to Kennedy this morning.

I'm deeply saddened by the death of Charles Kennedy. He was a talented politician who has died too young. My thoughts are with his family.

Sad beyond words to hear the news about Charlie Kennedy. A lovely man and one of the most talented politicians of his time. Gone too soon.

Charles Kennedy. In a political age not overburdened with gaiety and good sense, he brought us wit, charm, judgement, principle and decency

Charles Kennedy was one of the most gifted politicians of a generation, he always spoke with great humour, humility and courage.

Kennedy was just 23 years old when he was first elected to parliament.

Pa / PA Archive/Press Association Images

After graduating from the University of Glasgow, he unexpectedly won the Ross, Cromarty and Skye constituency in 1983 for the SDP. He went on to help push through the party's merger with the Liberals to form the Liberal Democrats in 1988, before becoming one of the new party's best known politicians.

When Paddy Ashdown stood down as Lib Dem leader in 1999, Kennedy took over, and proceeded to raise the party's profile by being more willing to attack Tony Blair's leadership of the Labour party.

He opposed Labour's decision to invade Iraq without U.N. backing, telling an enormous 2003 rally against the war that "misleading" evidence presented by the government had left the public "scared and confused".

But he was known as a heavy drinker, and colleagues became increasingly concerned about its effect on his performance as leader. He later announced his intention to seek help for a drink problem but was forced to stand aside.

He was critical when Nick Clegg, one of his successors as Lib Dem leader, chose to take the party into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010. Kennedy, who was on the left of his party, said the Lib Dems should not have formed a government with the Tories.

"For some of us at least, our political compass currently feels confused," he wrote in The Observer at the time.

Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Jim Waterson at jim.waterson@buzzfeed.com.

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