richard nixon

Richard M. Nixon boards a helicopter on Aug. 9, 1974, on the White House grounds after submitting his resignation as nation's chief executive. (Associated Press / August 1, 2014)

Richard Nixon, who strode the world stage for decades and was the only American President to resign his office to avoid impeachment, died Friday night, four days after suffering a stroke. He was 81 years old.

A spokesman said Nixon, the nation's 37th President, was pronounced dead at 9:08 p.m. at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, where he had been taken by ambulance from his home in Park Ridge, N.J. His daughters, Julie Nixon Eisenhower and Patricia Nixon Cox, were at his bedside. His wife, Pat, died last June of lung cancer.

President Clinton said the Nixon family "know that the best wishes of all Americans are with them during their moment of sorrow." He praised Nixon as "a statesman who sought to build a lasting structure of peace."

"He gave of himself with devotion," Clinton said. "His country owes him a debt."

Clinton said he would attend the funeral at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda, Calif. The library said the funeral will be held Wednesday at 4 p.m., followed by a private burial at the library near the grave of Pat Nixon.

At Nixon's request, there will be no ceremonies in Washington, D.C., where former presidents often lie in state at the Capitol.

The former President had made out a living will stating he did not want heroic measures in the face of devastating illness. Respecting his wishes, his breathing was not assisted in his final days by a respirator. He had been in a coma since Tuesday night.

Even in the decade before his death, the former President demonstrated the uncommon resiliency that characterized his long and turbulent public life.

Many never forgave him for the activities that forced him from office as an unindicted co-conspirator of the Watergate scandal. Yet after a decade of shadowy, self-imposed exile, he had reclaimed a place on the national stage as a wise man of foreign policy. Through his writings, his visits to Moscow and Asia and his private conversations with world leaders, he had succeeded in raising himself from the political depths to the pantheon of elder statesmen.

Of all the men who have occupied the White House before and since, Nixon's place in history is perhaps the most ambiguous and stirs the most divergent of sentiments. For nearly half a century, in office and out, he commanded the nation's fascinated attention, inspiring both unshakable admiration and relentless loathing.

"I have never seen one individual as targeted in terms of hatred as Richard Nixon. There is no question that Nixon brought out this passion," said Herbert S. Parmet, a history professor at City University of New York and author of "Richard Nixon and His America."

His name will forever be linked to what his White House dismissed as the third-rate burglary at Democratic Party headquarters in Washington's Watergate office complex--a brief episode on the night of June 17, 1972, that ultimately led to his downfall.

But even with that ghost, he remained a figure to be reckoned with: His pronouncements on issues of war and peace carried complex echoes of a political career born in a successful campaign for Congress in 1946, when the nation was in the throes of anti-communist fervor. He was still heeded nearly 50 years later, long after his political clout had vanished.

Lasting Achievement

Before scandal ended his presidency on Aug. 9, 1974, in the midst of his second term, Nixon claimed a lasting achievement in the historic opening to China: His decision to end the Cold War isolation of the Asian giant won him acclaim even from liberal critics, who acknowledged that only a leader with ironclad anti-communist credentials could have accomplished the task.

Although he shared responsibility for escalation of the Vietnam War, and his Administration was the target of the most bitter and vehement anti-war protests, he also began the drawdown that led to the ultimate departure of U.S. troops from the Southeast Asian nation.

On domestic policy, he took unique positions for a Republican leader of his era, presenting the first proposal for a negative income tax, which would have distributed federal funds to the poorest citizens; imposing controls on wages and prices to stabilize the economy, and proposing overhauls of welfare and health care--measures that have only now returned to the top of the agenda, in the White House of a Democratic President.

"He was less of a partisan Republican than many believe, too independent for many, a man who used rhetoric as a stiletto. The rhetoric, more than anything else apart from Watergate, got him in trouble. It was what made people associate him with the right wing," Parmet said.

He was an extraordinarily deft politician and perhaps the most resilient political figure of the modern era, displaying an almost uncanny ability to rebound from near-disaster. Yet he never fit neatly into either the Republican Party's moderate wing of Nelson A. Rockefeller or the conservative camp of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.

Comeback, Comedown