Former Brazilian Vice President Jose Alencar died Tuesday after a long battle with abdominal cancer. He was 79.
The textile magnate shared eight years of government with Brazil's first working-class president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who left office as new leader Dilma Rousseff was sworn in at the New Year.
With Rousseff and Silva on a trip to Portugal, interim president Michel Temer offered his condolences to Alencar's family, calling the former vice president an example of perseverance and hard work for all Brazilians.
Some Brazilians wept at the steps of the hospital where Alencar had been treated over the years in his ongoing battle with cancer.
"He is a man who lives in the heart of all Brazilians," presidential secretary Gilberto Carvalho said at a news conference.
The Sirio-Libanes Hospital in Sao Paulo said Alencar arrived on Monday in critical condition. According to the hospital, he died of multiple organ failure while surrounded by his immediate family.
He was sedated and without pain, according to a note released by the Antonio Carlos Onofre de Lira Galvao, head of the medical team overseeing his care.
Alencar underwent 17 surgeries, including one at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He had also been treated with an experimental drug at the University of Houston's MD Andersen Cancer Center.
He won the respect of many Brazilians with candid talk about living with cancer and his promotion of preventive practices that lead to early detection.
Alencar, a multimillionaire businessman, was picked as Silva's running mate in 2002 in a clear bid to win the support of bankers, ranchers, business leaders, military officers and foreign investors who feared the former trade union leader's radical leftist past.
Like Silva, Alencar was raised poor; he was the 11th of 15 siblings. While Silva joined the labor movement and toiled as a lathe operator, Alencar built an empire of textile factories and amassed a fortune once estimated at about $200 million.
Silva went on to gain fame as a skillful union negotiator and became the leader of the ruling Workers Party. Alencar eventually turned to politics in the conservative Liberal Party dominated by evangelical Christians. He was elected to Brazil's Senate in 1998.
Despite their different paths, Alencar was one of Silva's biggest supporters in Brazil's contentious political arena, standing by the president during corruption scandals that cost some of Silva's closest aides their jobs.
He was not afraid to criticize Silva's policies, however. Early in the president's first term, he criticized the administration for maintaining interest rates of nearly 27 percent, saying they kept businesses from growing.
Alencar was born Oct. 17, 1931, in the small rural town of Itamuri in Minas Gerais state.
He left home at age 14 to work as a salesman in a dry goods shop and by the time he was 18, he had opened his own store.
In the following years he worked as a traveling salesman, opened and closed a pasta factory and worked as a textile wholesaler.
In 1967 he teamed up with a wealthy businessman in the cotton processing business and founded Coteminas, today one of the largest textile businesses in Brazil.
In 1994 he ran for governor of Minas Gerais but lost, and four years later he won a landslide victory to the Senate.
Alencar is survived by his wife Mariza Campos Gomes da Silva his son Josue Christiano and daughters Maria da Graca and Patricia.
Associated Press reporters Marco Sibaja and Juliana Barbassa contributed to this report.