Penn State's iconic American football coach Joe Paterno, who was fired last year in the wake of child sex abuse charges against an assistant, died early on Sunday after suffering complications from lung cancer, his family said.
"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."
Paterno, 85, won more games than any other top-level US collegiate coach in history and the fame of Penn State University's gridiron team helped enlarge the school's reputation and academic offerings. But his storied coaching career ended under a dark 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. He has denied the charges.
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.
The Washington Post reported that Paterno had been breathing with the aid of a ventilator until Sunday, and that the family had informed the hospital of his wishes not to be kept alive through extreme artificial measures.
A statue of Paterno on the campus was surrounded Sunday morning by flowers and mementos.
"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."
Various media reports said Paterno's family, including his wife Sue, five children and 17 grandchildren, had been called to his bedside at Mount Nittany Medical Center in the State College, Pennsylvania area.
Paterno, who broke a hip in a fall at home in December, had been in hospital there since January 13.
Source: AFP Global Edition