Penn State's iconic American football coach Joe Paterno died Sunday of lung cancer, leaving a legacy sadly tarnished by a pedophilia scandal that rocked America.
"It is with great sadness that we announce that Joe Paterno passed away earlier today," the Paterno family said in a statement.
"His loss leaves a void in our lives that will never be filled. He died as he lived. He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone of how blessed his life had been."
Mount Nittany Medical Center said the sports hero died of metastatic small cell carcinoma.
"Joe was surrounded by his family at the time of his passing, and they request privacy during this difficult time," the hospital said in a statement.
Paterno, 85, guided the Nittany Lions to 409 victories -- more than any other top-level US collegiate coach in history.
The fame of Penn State's gridiron team burnished the university's reputation nationwide, but Paterno's storied career ended under a cloud.
He was sacked in November for failing to take tougher action against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky after being told about an incident in a locker room shower in which Sandusky allegedly molested a 10-year-old boy.
Sandusky, on the Penn State staff from 1969 through 1999, is facing trial after being accused of more than 50 counts of molesting 10 boys over an 11-year period.
Paterno reported the incident to his superior at the university, and later acknowledged that he regretted never following up further.
Sandusky, who has denied the charges, was among the many offering condolences to Paterno's wife, Sue, and family.
"This is a sad day!" Sandusky said in a statement released by his lawyer.
"Our family, Dottie and I would like to convey our deepest sympathy to Sue and her family. Nobody did more for the academic reputation of Penn State than Joe Paterno. He maintained a high standard in a very difficult profession.
"Nobody will be able to take away the memories we all shared of a great man, his family, and all the wonderful people who were a part of his life," Sandusky said.
Despite the scandal, huge affection remained for Paterno on the Penn State campus at State College, which his influence helped build into a place its residents called "Happy Valley."
"His ambitions were far reaching, but he never believed he had to leave this Happy Valley to achieve them," his family said. "He was a man devoted to his family, his university, his players and his community."
Students and other admirers had gathered on Saturday night in an impromptu vigil on the campus after the Paterno family confirmed the coach's health was deteriorating.
Media reports said Paterno's family, which includes sons Scott, Jay and David, daughters Diana and Mary and 17 grandchildren, had been called to his hospital bedside on Saturday, when Scott and Jay Paterno both used Twitter to deny premature reports of their father's death.
Mourners gathered again Sunday near a statue of Paterno at the Penn State stadium, which was surrounded by flowers and mementos.
"In the minds of PSU students and alums, Joe represents what we all want to be -- the icon who lives next door," said Andrew Scherff, a 1999 graduate who is now an adjunct professor at a Penn State satellite campus.
"Humble enough to hand out Halloween candy with his wife of 50 years, in the house he has lived in for 50 years, going to the same job for 50 years, who also just so happens to be one of the most recognizable men in America."
"Guys like Joe Paterno rarely, rarely come around," said Millen, now a commentator for ESPN. "What we've lost today won't be replaced.
"All the stuff that's gone on the last two months, I can't help but think he died of a broken heart."
Source: AFP Global Edition