Former Sen. Tom Coburn dies at 72

Former Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn (R) has died at the age of 72 following a long battle with prostate cancer.

A source close to the family confirmed to The Hill that Coburn died Friday night. Coburn announced in 2013 that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and later stepped down from the Senate before the end of his term.

“He lived every day as if it were his last and took grand stands without grandstanding. It was never about him,” Coburn’s former communications director John Hart tweeted. “He took on all sides and was loved by all sides. A model and mentor for the ages.”

Coburn’s family said in a statement reported by The Oklahoman that “because of his strong faith, he rested in the hope found in John chapter 11 verse 25 where Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, will live, even though they die.’ Today he lives in heaven.”

Coburn first entered political life in 1994, when he was elected to the House during the Republican Revolution. He served until early 2001, fulfilling a campaign pledge to not serve more than three terms in the lower chamber.

During his time in the House, Coburn was an outspoken advocate for shrinking the federal budget and restricting access to abortion. He frequently clashed with then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) over what he saw as overtures to the center. 

Coburn returned to politics with a successful run for the Senate in 2004. Bolstering his conservative bona fides, the Oklahoma Republican used the Senate hold privilege, a procedural mechanism, to block a litany of legislation, including the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act and the Whistleblower Protection Act of 2007.

Among other conservative positions, Coburn was also a strong supporter of expanding access to firearms and opposed same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act. 

Coburn was reelected in 2010 but resigned in 2014 before his term was up because of his declining health.

The former senator, who was also a physician, had been consulting with the Manhattan Institute’s Project FDA since 2015. The project advocated for the expedition of the drug approval process. He became a Manhattan Institute senior fellow in 2016.

Conservatives praised Coburn on Saturday, saying he had been a significant influence on their lives. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who now holds Coburn’s former seat, remembered him as a “tremendous leader.”

“Oklahoma has lost a tremendous leader, and I lost a great friend today. Dr. Coburn was an inspiration to many in our state and our nation. He was unwavering in his conservative values, but he had deep and meaningful friendships with people from all political and personal backgrounds. He was truly respected by people on both sides of the aisle,” he said.

“One of the greatest influences in my life was my relationship with Senator Tom Coburn,” tweeted former Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.). “He taught me about servant leadership+ Jesus.  Now he is with the Lord. A life very well lived. Love to his family.”


“One of my hero’s and my friend passed away early this morning. Sen. Tom Coburn of OK. His book ‘Breach of trust’ was one of the things that inspired me to run for Congress. Today, the Lord called him home. Rest In Peace Senator,” added former Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.).

Updated: 10:45 a.m.

Tags James Lankford Newt Gingrich Reid Ribble Tom Coburn

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