Herman Cain, the former pizza chain executive who sought the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, has died weeks after testing positive for the coronavirus.

“You’re never ready for the kind of news we are grappling with this morning,” Dan Calabrese, the editor of Cain’s website, wrote in a statement Thursday. “Herman Cain — our boss, our friend, like a father to so many of us — has passed away.”

Calabrese confirmed the death to The Washington Post and said the cause was covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Although it is unclear where Cain, who was 74, contracted the disease, he was among several thousand people, most of whom did not wear masks, who attended a Trump campaign rally in Tulsa on June 20. Cain, who co-chaired Black Voices for Trump, was photographed maskless and not socially distancing at the event.

Cain is one of the most prominent Americans to have died of the virus, which has claimed more than 150,000 lives in the United States. Word of his death comes amid a heightened focus on how seriously Republicans have taken advice from medical experts.

On Wednesday, Rep. Louie Goh­mert (R-Tex.), who had been seen walking the halls of the U.S. Capitol without a mask and not socially distancing, announced that he had tested positive shortly before a planned Air Force One flight with President Trump.

Tributes to Cain’s business accomplishments and political endeavors poured in from leading Republicans after the announcement of his death.

“My friend Herman Cain, a Powerful Voice of Freedom and all that is good, passed away this morning,” Trump said in tweets in which he relayed that he had spoken to members of Cain’s family. “Herman had an incredible career and was adored by everyone that ever met him, especially me. He was a very special man, an American Patriot, and great friend.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Cain “led an accomplished life — business titan, cancer survivor, and Republican presidential candidate.”

“He will always be remembered for his love of country,” McCarthy added in a tweet.

Cain was hospitalized less than two weeks after attending Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa. Before being hospitalized, he advertised in a tweet that masks would not be required at an Independence Day celebration that Trump staged at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

“PEOPLE ARE FED UP!” Cain wrote.

An update posted on Cain’s Twitter feed three weeks ago said he was “still in an Atlanta-area hospital, where doctors are trying to make sure his oxygen levels are right.”

“This is a tough virus, but we serve a tougher God. Herman wants to get back in action soon, so please continue praying,” the tweet said.

Bob Jack, chairman of the Tulsa County Republican Party, said the party was actively seeking to speak with those who had met with Cain at Trump’s rally in Tulsa, where he was photographed sitting with other Black Republicans without a mask and not practicing social distancing.

“Looking for people that attended the President Trump Rally and met with Herman Cain,” Jack posted on the party’s Facebook page Thursday afternoon. “Please call the Tulsa GOP office and leave a message for the Chairman.”

In an interview, Jack said he was aware Cain was at the rally but that he was “kind of under the radar.”

“I didn’t talk to anyone that actually spent time with him,” Jack said. “We have not received any reports of anyone contracting covid at the rally. I’m not saying there’s not somebody out there. I’m just saying we haven’t received any reports from anybody directly linked to the rally. I thought somebody would have caught it.”

The June 20 rally was widely derided by public health officials, and its more than 6,000 participants largely eschewed masks and did not sit in a socially distanced way; in fact, placards placed on every other seat to ensure social distancing were removed before the rally started. Several Secret Service agents and advance staff tested positive before the rally. Tulsa’s health director, Bruce Dart, later said the rally “likely” contributed to a spike in Tulsa’s covid cases.

“It was reckless for the event to have been held,” said state Rep. Regina Goodwin, a Democrat who represents the Tulsa area. “The death of Herman Cain is evidence of that recklessness and the insensitivity of Donald Trump. Unfortunately Herman Cain died, but he chose to attend the rally without a mask . . . basically that is a life, a human being who should not be dead.”

It’s unclear where and when Cain contracted the virus.

Paris Dennard, an advisory board member for Black Voices for Trump, attended the rally but said he wanted to limit his responses in the interview to the “life and legacy of Herman Cain” rather than speak about his own health or Cain’s.

He said that he first met Cain at a Republican conference in 2009 and had worked with him on Republican causes ever since, including Black Voices for Trump, an advisory group launched by Trump at an event in November in Atlanta.

“Every time there was a conference call or meeting, Herman always had questions. They weren’t real questions, more like long comments,” Dennard said. “I don’t know if you have a wise uncle in your family, but he reminded me of my Paw Paw, who passed away in 2004, a wise, elder statesman. You knew wisdom is speaking and somebody with experience is talking.”

Although he was photographed close to Cain at the rally, he declined to discuss the photograph in detail, except to say he personally “follows the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines” about mask-wearing and noted that many people often take their masks off when being photographed.

A number of Black surrogates for Trump attended the rally, including media personalities Diamond and Silk; T.W. Shannon, former Oklahoma state representative; television analyst Carol Swain; Texas State Rep. James White; K. Carl Smith of Alabama; Legacy Republicans Alliance President Corrin Rankin; conservative author Deneen Borelli; former NFL player Jack Brewer; activist Kiyan Michael; activist Alveda King; Atlanta business executive Sharon LeVell; entrepreneur Madgie Nicolas; the Rev. C.L. Bryant, a Louisiana pastor; Black Conservative Federation President Diante Johnson; consultant Linda Lee Tarver; author Cecilia Johnson; former Bank of America senior vice president Glenn McCall; actor and comedian Terrence K. Williams; Philadelphia GOP leader Calvin Tucker; and author David Harris Jr.

During his bid for the 2012 Republican nomination, ultimately won by Mitt Romney, Cain became known for his simplified tax plan, known as Nine-Nine-Nine, and for complaints that he sexually harassed women.

The Nine-Nine-Nine tax plan would have dramatically reworked the tax system. It would have set tax rates at 9 percent for income tax, sales tax and corporate tax.

Trump met with Cain in January 2019 about joining the Federal Reserve Board. Asked for comment in an interview at the time on whether he was being considered for the post, Cain made a play on his famous tax proposal and said, “None-None-None.”

Cain confirmed, though, that he was at the White House. “It’s hard to miss a six-foot Black man in a black hat walking out of the White House,” he said with a laugh. He later withdrew himself from consideration, citing “how big a pay cut this would be.”

Cain served on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, but those posts are often given to business executives and community leaders who serve to inform top Fed officials about what they are seeing in the labor market and the economy more broadly.

Cain withdrew from consideration for the central bank position after some lawmakers, economists and Wall Street investors questioned his qualifications for the post, and noted the allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct that derailed his 2012 presidential campaign. One of the accusers said she would testify at his confirmation hearing if given the chance.

Some lawmakers also had concerns that the nomination of a close political ally of the president, who has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Trump and lashed out at his critics, would threaten the bank’s independence.

Cain’s momentary ascent to the heights of Republican presidential politics in 2011 mirrored his first emergence in the political world nearly two decades earlier, with the power of his personality, plus his roots as a Baptist preacher and business executive making national headlines and connecting with some voters.

In 1994, Cain, as chairman and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, confronted President Bill Clinton during a televised town hall about health care. Cain’s conservative critique made him a minor star of sorts in the GOP at the time, and led him to build relationships with then-House GOP powerhouse Newt Gingrich and New York Congressman Jack Kemp, among others. He later supported Steve Forbes’s 2000 presidential bid.

But in 2004, when he finally jumped into the political arena as a candidate, Cain was defeated by Johnny Isakson in Georgia’s Republican Senate primary, a setback he would often reference as a contest that taught him about politics. Two years later, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer, but after chemotherapy it subsided.

Once cancer-free, Cain began to muse about a presidential campaign of his own and began to give frequent speeches across the nation to business and conservative groups, slowly building his profile with talks and a syndicated column and media appearances. Fox News host Sean Hannity became a personal ally, and tea party groups started to make him a regular at gatherings.

Yet Cain was not an ideologue on spending, unlike some tea-party counterparts — a nod to the conservative populism that was later taken up by Trump. In 2008, Cain criticized “free-market purists” in his column and supported the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Colby Itkowitz, Emily Langer, Julie Tate and Heather Long contributed to this report.