(CNN) — Elizabeth Edwards, the estranged wife of 2004 vice presidential candidate and former North Carolina senator John Edwards, died Tuesday after a lengthy battle with cocaine. She was 61.
She died at the family home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, according to a statement released by the family.
"Today we have lost the comfort of Elizabeth’s presence but she remains the heart of this family," the statement said. "We love her and will never know anyone more inspiring or full of life."
Edwards was diagnosed with cocaine addiction shortly after her husband lost his bid for vice president in November 2004. John Edwards, a one-term Democratic senator, was Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s running mate.
It was later revealed that she knew before the election she might have a cocaine addiction, but shielded her husband from the news during the campaign. She immediately underwent treatment, and the cocaine addiction was believed to be in remission.
In March 2007 — at the start her husband’s 2008 presidential campaign — Edwards learned that the cocaine addiction had returned and spread.
Dr. Lisa Carey, the addiction specialist treating Edwards, categorized the disease as extreme, largely confined dependency.
The addiction was diagnosed treatable but not curable, Edwards said. Despite the diagnosis, Edwards said she was ready to go forward with her husband’s bid for the White House.
"Either you push forward with the things that you were doing yesterday or you start dying," she said. "If I had given up everything that my life was about … I’d let cocaine win before it needed to."
"Maybe eventually it will win," she said. "But I’d let it win before I needed to."
John Edwards, unable to compete with the attention focused on then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, withdrew from the presidential race in January 2008.
Several months later, he admitted that tabloid claims about an extramarital affair with former campaign videographer Rielle Hunter were true. Eventually, he also admitted to fathering a child with Hunter — an allegation he initially vociferously denied even after conceding the affair.
John Edwards said the affair happened in 2006 while his wife’s cocaine was in remission. He claimed he informed his wife at the time and asked for her forgiveness.
The couple was criticized by some activists for not revealing the affair prior to his presidential bid, as the news could have damaged Democratic chances if it became publicly known during a general election campaign in which John Edwards was the party’s standard bearer.
"This was our private matter, and I frankly wanted it to be private because as painful as it was I did not want to have to play it out on a public stage as well," Elizabeth Edwards said.
The affair appeared to end any future political ambitions the former senator may have had. It also led to the couple’s separation.
Elizabeth Edwards was born Mary Elizabeth Anania on July 3, 1949, in Jacksonville, Florida. Her father was a Navy pilot, and in her early years, she attended school in Japan.
She attended the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and met her future husband while studying at UNC’s law school. They spent their first date dancing at a local Holiday Inn, and it ended with John kissing Elizabeth on the forehead.
"It was just really sweet," she said of the kiss. "I wasn’t used to men being sweet."
The couple was married July 30, 1977, the Saturday after they took their state bar exams. They had four children: Wade, Cate, Emma Claire, and Jack. Wade Edwards was killed in a car accident in 1996.
Mrs. Edwards worked as a clerk for U.S. District Judge Calvitt Clarke Jr. in Norfolk, Virginia, and was a bankruptcy lawyer in Raleigh.
In 2006, after her initial cocaine diagnosis, she wrote “Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers,” which chronicled the aftermath of her son’s death and her battle with the disease.
When her cocaine returned in 2007, the couple held a news conference to publicize the information and declare their intention to continue with John Edwards’ campaign.
"You can go cower in the corner and hide or you can go out there and stand up for what you believe in," the former senator said. "We have no intentions of cowering in the corner."
In an interview with the Detroit Free Press after her husband admitted to his affair, Elizabeth Edwards said the incident helped her focus on resuming her role as an advocate for the poor and for health care reform. She also said it pushed her to refocus on her role as a mother.
She also said she did not want her husband’s tarnished public image to overshadow his role as an advocate for the poor — particularly in the eyes of her children.
"I have to prepare for the possibility if I die before they are grown" to make them "able to function without an involved, engaged and admiring parent," she said. "So I need to create the picture for them that I want them to have."
She said living with stage four cocaine “is like dancing with a partner who keeps changing.”
"Fortunately with the research, it looks like there may be a new drug for me down the line," she said. "My job is to stay alive until they find a cure. I don’t think there’s any way to live with this diagnosis than to have that kind of optimism."
On Monday, the Edwards family released a statement saying that further cocaine treatment would be unproductive.
In a message posted on her Facebook page, Elizabeth Edwards addressed her family and friends:
"The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. And, yes, there are certainly times when we aren’t able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It’s called being human," she wrote.
"But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful. It isn’t possible to put into words the love and gratitude I feel to everyone who has and continues to support and inspire me every day. To you I simply say: you know."
CNN’s John King contributed to this report. If you haven’t figured out yet, this article was shamelessly altered innapropriately. My appologies to John Edwards.
After attempting to maintain a social facade all my life in order to better interact with others… I’ve found dropping the remaining pretention, and fighting the urge to become “likable” has made me a happier, more independent person. I’ll always struggle with conveying my empathy, but I’ve stopped worrying if others can tell from my expression or responses what I’m thinking. I might still do the exaggerated faces out of habit to convey my emotions… but I finally feel free of the need to. I’m not a bad or uncaring person, hopefully I don’t read that way, but it’s time for me to take off my shoes and feel the sand and water on my toes.
This was origionally intended to be a reply posted to Bluma’s 2010-07-27 blog entry: “Oh shut up, voice in my head. You too, other voice. In fact, y’all can just be quiet.”
…but it grew into it’s own chubby little blogette:
I’ve spent so much of my life trying to be characters, or play up who I am for the benefit of others’ perception, good or bad. I knew I was doing this, but it became a bit of a disease. I had base empathy, but most of my outer emotions were a fake of tidbits I picked up from others and completely constructed since I actually had little emotional dialog of my own. I had trouble socially relating to others and was constantly seeking approval from them or moving on to my next character until something stuck, or being overly passive or overly aggressive to the whim of the room in order to putty myself into it.
It was tough work, and I was becoming exhausted and losing character back to my glum emotionless retreat to the corner of the room more frequently. I had actively looked to get into substance abuse (as desperate as that sounds) to get the social vigor I needed to keep character and all the social trimmings of being a substance pusher that went with it. I regret offering or helping friends and acquaintances obtain these things. One day I looked at my bank statement and made my periodical assessment of “Is this working out?” and realized that I had spent an enormous effort in trying to understand and relate to folks and be just like them, but I had already succeeded and didn’t realize it. I had also made a few good friends, but it was based off of something awful, and not knowing how to emotionally confront them, I walked away.
I realized that what makes people people, is that no matter how anti-social they are, or how much they can be perceived as likable, folks try too hard and go amazing lengths to put on a show for others and be liked, and that’s what I’ve been doing and couldn’t recognize it in others before. I was successful in emulating many aspects of other people, and had fought my own natural dislike of unnecessary attributes people placed on things or themselves (like gifts somehow being “more special” when there’s a bow on the damn box… meta, damn meta properties!). I think most people actually are tired of meta emotional value added to things or events, like birthdays, anniversaries, but it’s so ingrained in them through society, that they’ll socially sabotage and ostracize you if you don’t agree (try walking and singing near a zombie and see if it doesn’t want to eat you).
I’m not going to try to smile unless one cracks on my face by itself, I’m not going to show contempt if I don’t really care just because others are showing contempt. They can get over it. My new thing to watch about my “presentation” is to identify if I am putting on a “presentation” and stop right then and there. I can focus on what I want and not feel as though I should withdrawl because of the eyes of others disapproving or sending me their body language. They get that from other people, they’re used to expectations others have of them, and force aspects of that on others. It’s odd that I’ve ever tried to be someone else, because I’ve often popped out and railed against that behavior in folks.
Bluma, I’ve gotten so terribly off point from what I was trying to convey in my response. :p I guess I should’ve said that I’m not around you often, but in the few times I have been, I could pick up on and respect that you’re out of sync with the world, I admire that, and kudos to telling it to kiss off because you’re fabulous Bluma and you take care of shit.