A former U.S. presidential nominee, two longtime U.S. senators, the central figure in a case that led to reform of a major police department, and a number of supporting players from the Civil Rights era and the Watergate scandal, topped the list of notable deaths in 2012.
George McGovern, who died at age 90, was the Democratic presidential nominee in 1972, running as an opponent of the Vietnam War and suffering one of the worst defeats in U.S. political history when he lost to incumbent President Richard Nixon. McGovern carried only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, losing even his native South Dakota.
President Barack Obama said McGovern -- a bomber pilot in World War II who became a leader of the opposition to the Vietnam War while in Congress -- dedicated his life to public service and "was a statesman of great conscience and conviction" and a "hero of war became a champion for peace."
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism during World War II, died at age 88.
Inouye -- the second-longest serving U.S. senator in history and a member of the Senate Watergate Committee -- was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and was third in line for the presidency as Senate president pro tem.
Arlen Specter, who served five terms in the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania, died at age 82. A longtime moderate Republican, Specter started his political career in the 1960s as a Democrat -- and switched back to the Democratic Party in 2009. He was defeated in the Democratic primary in 2010.
Specter was assistant counsel to the Warren Commission investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, where he originated the theory of a single-bullet fired by a lone gunman.
Warren Rudman, a two-term senator from New Hampshire who co-sponsored the landmark budget-cutting legislation bearing his name, died at age 82. Rudman was known in Washington for his sharp questioning of Reagan administration operatives involved in the Iran-contra "arms-for-hostages" deal and fellow senators in the so-called Keating Five savings-and-loan scandal.
Robert Bork, a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge whose nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 was rejected by the Senate, died at age 85.
Bork -- who first came to prominence in 1973 when, as U.S. solicitor general, he fired Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox -- became a leading voice among U.S. conservatives, as a bestselling author and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.
Nicholas Katzenbach, a former aide to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson who played a key role in the Civil Rights movement, died at age 90. Katzenbach confronted then-Alabama Gov. George Wallace at the University of Alabama in 1963 after Wallace vowed to prevent black students from entering. Katzenbach told the governor, "I'm not interested in this show" and later escorted the two students to register.
Katzenbach advised John F. Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis and negotiated the release of Cuban prisoners captured during the Bay of Pigs invasion. He lobbied Republican senators in 1964 to help pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which he helped draft, and he defended the Civil Rights Act before the Supreme Court.
Chuck Colson, who was known as "Nixon's hit man" and famously said, "I would walk over my grandmother if necessary to insure the re-election of Richard Nixon," died at age 80.
Colson confessed to obstruction of justice in the Watergate scandal that brought down the Nixon administration. He served time in prison, then became an advocate for religious fellowship and conversion to Christianity within the prison system.
Tony Blankley, a conservative journalist and commentator who once wrote speeches for President Ronald Reagan and served as press secretary and general adviser to House Speaker Newt Gingrich, died at age 63. At the time of his death, he was vice president of the Edelman public relations firm in Washington, a visiting senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation think tank, a syndicated newspaper columnist, a regular weekly guest on "The McLaughlin Group," and an on-air political commentator for CNN, NBC and NPR.
Kevin White, who served four terms as mayor of Boston from 1968 to 1984, died at age 82. White led the city during one of its most difficult eras, when Boston was beset by conflict over court-ordered busing of public school students to achieve racial desegregation. Boston's downtown and waterfront underwent a major renewal during his tenure.
Rodney King, whose 1991 videotaped beating by police rocked Los Angeles, died in an apparent swimming-pool drowning at age 47. After four LA Police Department officers seen beating him on tape were acquitted on excessive force and assault charges, riots broke out in the city and Los Angeles eventually instituted wholesale reform of its police department.
An enduring image from the riots is of King's emotional appeal on television: "People, I just want to say, can we all get along? Can we get along?"
Russell Means, a leader of militant American Indians and a prominent figure in the 71-day occupation of the reservation village of Wounded Knee in South Dakota in 1973, died at age 73. He and Dennis Banks demanded a Senate investigation of the ouster of Richard Wilson, elected tribal leader of the Oglala Sioux tribe. Both were tried on charges of conspiracy, assault and theft in St. Paul, Minn., in 1974, but the judge dismissed the charges and accused the FBI of meddling.
The Los Angeles Times once called Means the most famous American Indian since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir died at 96. Shamir was prime minister from 1983 to 1984 and again from 1986 to 1992.
King Norodom Sihanouk, highly revered as Cambodia's ruler since 1941, died at age 89. Sihanouk, who helped free Cambodia from French rule in 1953, had led the country through its most turbulent times until his abdication in favor of his son in 2004.
The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church and owner of the company that owns United Press International, died at age 92.
Leontine T.C. Kelly, the first black woman bishop of a major Christian denomination, died at age 92. Kelly advocated for inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church, ministered to AIDS patients and spoke out against nuclear weapons and armed conflict.