Shortly before winning his Senate seat, Specter served as convicted “Unicorn Killer” Ira Einhorn’s defense attorney in 1979, before Einhorn skipped bail and the country, only to be captured 18 years later in France.
Specter’s health was threatened many times over the years. The most recent occurrence came several years after a very public fight with advanced Hodgkin’s disease, first revealed in February 2005. He underwent chemotherapy while managing, from the helm of the Judiciary Committee, the Supreme Court nomination fights over Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.
He eventually went into complete remission for three years. In 2008, he announced he had been diagnosed with a recurrence of the disease and underwent weekly chemotherapy treatments. Earlier in his Senate career, Specter dealt with a brain tumor and a heart condition that required bypass surgery. He was also misdiagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the terminal condition known commonly as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 1979.
The health battles were featured in his 2008 memoir “Never Give In.” Specter said that health and welfare guided his every move.
“Immediately upon election to the Senate in 1980, I chose to serve on the Appropriations Subcommittee for Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. I knew that good health was a person’s most important possession. I had played squash virtually every day for a decade,” Specter wrote. “I watched my diet under the close surveillance of my gourmet, calorie-conscious wife.”
Indeed, his own health concerns appeared to fuel some of his legislative goals. For years, Specter was one of the most ardent advocates for increased spending for the National Institutes of Health.
Specter supported Obama’s economic stimulus plan in part because of the funding boost it provided for the NIH. Specter — still a Republican at that point — successfully traded his vote for the bill, which amounted to about a huge boost in the NIH program budget.
In his private life, Specter was an avid squash player, and, as a Senator, was known to ask the State Department to find squash courts for him when he travelled overseas.
He mentioned wanting to return to the squash court in a brief statement issued on Aug. 28, in which he confirmed reports about the recurrence of cancer. In the statement, Specter called the diagnosis “another battle I intend to win.”
Material from CQ’s Politics in America was used in this report.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.