Former Sen. Jesse Helms, known as an iconic U.S. conservative, died Friday at age 86.
In a statement, President George W. Bush described Helms as "a stalwart defender of limited government and free enterprise, a fearless defender of a culture of life, and an unwavering champion of those struggling for liberty."
During his 30 years in the Senate, Helms authored several amendments that took a strong stance against Communism, abortion and homosexuality, among other conservative issues. Helms co-authored a 1996 measure that tightened trade sanctions against communist Cuba. He blocked U.S. funding to international family planning organizations that directly or indirectly supported abortion. And he asked the Senate to cut funding for the arts when he learned the National Endowment for the Arts was sponsoring a homoerotic photo exhibit.
Helms was also a pillar of his Republican Party when Ronald Reagan came to power.
Supporters remember the five-term senator of North Carolina as a man of principle and values who left historic marks on the conservative movement.
Beverly LaHaye, founder of Concerned Women for America, called Helms "a cultural war hero" who "fought fearlessly for family and moral values."
"He was a staunch defender of the sanctity of life, and he stood against the onslaught of those who would grant special rights to the sexually confused and broken. He weathered the kinds of storms and personal attacks under which others have quickly caved," said LaHaye.
Helms was also warmly praised for his keeping true to his Christian faith.
The Rev. Billy Graham, a respected evangelist who was a long-time friend of Helms, said he was a "man of consistent conviction to conservative ideals" who based his life on principle rather than popularity or politics.
Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of Billy Graham, fondly remembered Helms. Lotz, who was a long-time member of Hayes-Barton Baptist Church , the Raleigh church Helms attended, shared with WRAL.com that he was a man who loved the Lord Jesus Christ, his family and his country.
She added that she thought it was fitting for a patriotic man like Helms to pass away on Independence Day with "an exclamation point on his life."
But Helms' hardline conservatism did not leave him unscathed by critics.
He was criticized for commentaries he made in the 1960s against civil rights and for initially opposing federal research funding on AIDS, a disease he believed was perpetuated by homosexuality.
Helms later changed his position and pushed for more funding toward AIDS treatment and relief. In 2002, Helms spoke at an event organized by Samaritan's Purse, a Christian relief group led by Franklin Graham, and apologized for not doing more earlier toward the worldwide epidemic.
As he aged, Helms suffered from a variety of illnesses, including a bone disorder, prostate cancer and heart problems. He was later diagnosed with vascular dementia. He retired from the Senate in 2003.
According to President Bush, when Helms was once asked if he had any ambitions beyond the United States Senate, he replied, "The only thing I am running for is the Kingdom of Heaven."