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The Death of a Sitting Senator Wasn't Always So Rare The Death of a Sitting Senator Wasn't Always So Rare

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The Death of a Sitting Senator Wasn't Always So Rare


Sen. Frank Lautenberg's death leaves the Senate without a single octogenarian.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s passing on Monday marked the first death in the U.S. Senate this year. If recent history is a guide, it could be the last.

Whether it’s modern medicine, earlier retirements, or voters looking for a change, senators just aren’t dying in office like they used to.


Every decade between the 1890s and 1960s, at least 15 senators passed away. But in the nearly three and a half decades since 1980, only 14 U.S. senators have died in office.

Those who have passed of late are among the lions of the institution. They are men who spent decades in the Capitol with names like Ted Kennedy, Robert Byrd, and Daniel Iouye (the three most recent senatorial deaths, prior to Lautenberg).

Lautenberg’s passing leaves the Senate without a single octogenarian – at least until its newly minted oldest member, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., turns 80 later this month. Former Sen. Richard Lugar had wanted to stay in the Senate deep into his 80s, but Republican primary voters in Indiana decided otherwise last year.


Here is the decade by decade breakdown of Senate deaths in office, since the founding of the nation:

2010s: 3 (so far)

2000s: 4

1990s: 4


1980s: 3

1970s: 8

1960s: 15

1950s: 19

1940s: 28

1930s: 24

1920s: 26

1910s: 29

1900s: 23

1890s: 17

1880s: 7

1870s: 11

1860s: 13

1850s: 14

1840s: 16

1830s: 9

1820s: 11

1810s: 4

1800: 8

1790s: 4



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