Jack Layton died Monday morning at his home, his family announced in a statement.
Layton had been battling cancer and recently stepped down as federal NDP leader, but had hoped to return when Parliament resumed next month.
"We deeply regret to inform you that the Honourable Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, passed away at 4:45 am today," the statement said.
"He passed away peacefully at his home surrounded by family and loved ones."
It's clear now that the greatest success of Layton's 30-year political career — the historic NDP breakthrough in May's federal election, catapulting his party into Official Opposition — was achieved with time rapidly running out on his life.
That Layton's moment of glory on the national stage was followed so swiftly by his death will leave chroniclers of Canadian political history forever pondering the what-ifs of a career cut short at such a promising point, and whether a man who unexpectedly became the country's "prime minister in-waiting" earlier this year might one day have been able — as unlikely as it seemed mere months ago — to complete the journey to the pinnacle of power.
Layton was just 61 when he was felled Monday by an unidentified but aggressive cancer that took hold this summer following a battle last year with the same disease in his prostate.
The latest diagnosis came in mid-July, barely a month after Layton and his wife Olivia Chow, a fellow NDP MP from Toronto, had made their historic move into Stornoway, the official Ottawa residence of the country's Opposition leader.
No social democrat had ever occupied the place (or even come close to doing so), and Layton's arrival there on June 15 raised hopes among the NDP faithful that even greater achievements awaited the party under his leadership.
But by the time a thin and weary-looking Layton revealed on July 25 he'd been stricken by a second cancer, and that he would require a leave-of-absence to fight the illness "so I can be back to fight for families when Parliament resumes" in September, there were widespread doubts he'd be able to fulfil that promise or to direct his party's ultimate quest: becoming Canada's government in a future election.
Published in Remembering from Aug. 22 to Aug. 27, 2011