Jack Layton, Canada's opposition leader, died Monday morning after a battle with cancer. He was 61.
Layton, nicknamed "Smiling Jack" for his seemingly boundless enthusiasm for life and politics, earlier this year led his socialist-leaning New Democratic Party to official opposition status for the first time in its history.
He died "peacefully at his home" surrounded by his wife, NDP Member of Parliament Olivia Chow, and other family members and friends, according to a statement issued by his wife and children.
Layton, who in 2009 was diagnosed with prostate cancer, held a news conference last month to announce he was suffering from another, undisclosed form of cancer and would be stepping down from his role as party leader, with the aim of returning to work in September. It is still not clear what type of cancer he had.
Layton appeared gaunt, and his voice was weak when he announced his leave from politics, and many Canadians were shocked by his suddenly frail appearance.
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“Your support and well wishes are so appreciated. Thank you,” Layton posted on Twitter, the Toronto Star says. “I will fight this and beat it."
Under his eight-year leadership, the New Democratic Party has become a national force, building significant support in the French-speaking province of Quebec.
In May elections, the NDP tripled its seats in parliament, finishing second to the ruling Conservative Party and forming the official opposition for the first time in its 50-year history.
"On the advice of my doctors, I am going to focus on treatment and recovery. I will therefore be taking a temporary leave of absence as leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada," Layton told reporters in Toronto, the Globe and Mail reports.
"I'm going to fight this cancer now, so I can be back to fight for families when parliament resumes" in mid-September, Layton said, his face visibly thinner and his voice raspy.
Nycole Turmel, a newly elected NDP member of parliament and former head of one of Canada's largest labor unions, stepped in as interim leader.
It is not clear whether Turmel will continue as party leader.