Marion Barry, the iconic four-term former mayor and current D.C. Council member and the best-known local political figure in modern Washington history, died early Sunday, a few hours after ending a brief stay at Howard University Hospital. He was 78.
His death was announced by his family in a statement released through a spokeswoman for Barry.
According to the statement, he died at the United Medical Center in Southeast Washington, after having been released from Howard University Hospital Saturday. Natalie Williams, a United Medical Center spokeswoman, said Barry arrived at the hospital around 12:30 a.m. and died at 1:46 a.m.
She declined to discuss his symptoms presented or the treatment rendered. No cause was given in the family statement, but he had suffered from many health problems over the years.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray said in a statement that he would work with Barry’s family and the D.C. Council to plan ceremonies worthy of a “true statesman of the District of Columbia.”
In pre-dawn statements, both Gray and mayor-elect Muriel Bowser expressed sadness at Barry’s passing. Bowser was at the hospital early Sunday and gave remarks at an impromptu news conference in the hospital auditorium where more than a dozen Barry aides and supporters gathered, some of them sobbing.
“We are saddened and shocked and we will miss Mayor Marion Barry,” she said. “He has been an inspiration to so many people and a fighter for people and a champion for the people of Ward 8. . . . He has left lessons about how to help people in the city that will live on for years and years to come.”
(Timeline: The life of Marion Barry)
C. Matthew Hudson, the chairman of the United Medical Center board and a personal pastor to Barry, said he was summoned to Barry’s bedside shortly after he arrived late Saturday night. Already there, he said, were the former Mayor’s wife, Cora Masters Barry, and his son, Christopher Barry. Also on hand were Phinis Jones, a confidant of Barry’s and another prominent pastor, the Rev. Willie Wilson.
LaToya Foster, a family spokeswoman, said Barry was discharged from Howard University Hospital at around 6:30 p.m. but said she believed Barry had stayed at the hospital watching television for a time after his discharge. His driver, she said, took him to get something to eat before taking him to his home.
Barry collapsed while walking into his home, Foster said. The driver called for paramedics, who took him to United Medical Center. Cora Barry came to the scene and accompanied him in the ambulance, Foster said.
Two other hospital officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to sensitivity of the matter, said Barry arrived in cardiac arrest and could not be revived before expiring.
Hudson said he gave Barry a blessing in his dying moments. “I asked God to receive his spirit,” he said.
A broad array of those who had been personally or politically connected with Barry over the years gathered early Sunday in the lobby of the hospital.
Those taking elevators up to the second floor included Cora Barry, personal lawyer and confidante Frederick D. Cooke Jr., and political aide Vernon E. Hawkins.
Trayon White, a former member of the D.C. State Board of Education and a political protege of Barry’s, said Barry had called him after leaving Howard Saturday night.
He played the voice mail, from 10:19 p.m., for a reporter: “Trayon, MB. I’m leaving the hospital and I’m doing a whole lot better than when I went in. So we’ll get together sometime tomorrow. I’m going home now and relax, watch television, et cetera. All right.”
Despite the characteristic optimism of the words in the voice mail, Barry had been debilitated in recent years by illnesses that weakened him beyond what might have been expected from his increasing age. He had suffered from prostate cancer and from diabetes. He underwent a kidney transplant.
In March, he left an inpatient rehabilitation facility after being treated for infections that he said “knocked me for a loop.”
“It really hit hard,” Barry said of the maladies, including a blood infection, that had put him in and out of hospital beds since January. He was released from his two-week stay at MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital a day before his 78th birthday in March.
At that time, he appeared frail and required assistance getting into and out of a wheelchair during an afternoon news conference, which drew a throng of local reporters. But he spoke in a strong voice, if at a deliberate pace, for 20 minutes about his health and his political future.
It was at that March news conference that he made what was for him a rare mention of his sense of his mortality.
While he had not previously been known for rigid adherence to doctors’ orders, he said then that he would place his health “at the top of the agenda.”
“I’m not going to be here forever, but while I’m going to be here, I want to be healthy,” he said.
Barry said the 2009 kidney transplant, which required him to take immune-system suppressants, made him particularly vulnerable.
His most recent hospitalization began Thursday evening. Foster, the spokeswoman, had said that he was admitted then because he was “feeling under the weather.” At the time of his release Saturday, Foster said in a text message that Barry was feeling “fan-tab-u-lous.”
Barry had been set to spend yet another week where most of his years in Washington had been spent — in the public eye.
An interview between Barry and Oprah Winfrey was set to air Sunday at 9 p.m. He was to be featured on a episode of “Where Are They Now?” alongside Family Ties actress Meredith Baxter and ex-MTV veejay “Downtown” Julie Brown.
Also, Barry’s annual Ward 8 turkey giveaway was set to take place Tuesday at Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia.
A viewing party for the Oprah interview and the turkey giveaway will go on, Foster said.