(AP) — Edwin Washington
Edwards, the high-living four-term governor
whose three-decade dominance of Louisiana politics
was largely overshadowed by scandal and an eight-year federal prison
sentence, died Monday at the age of 93.
Edwards died of respiratory problems at his home in Gonzales, near the Louisiana capital, with family
by his bedside, according to family spokesman Leo Honeycutt. He had suffered bouts of ill health
in recent years and entered hospice care this month at his home.
“I have lived a good life, had better breaks than most, had some bad breaks, but that’s all part of it. I tried to help as many people
as I could, and I hope I did that, and I hope, if I did, that they will help others, too. I love Louisiana and I always will,” Edwards said in his final words, according to Honeycutt’s statement.
Earlier this week, the former governor stated, "I've made no bones about the fact that I've considered myself on borrowed time
for the past 20 years, and we all know that all this fun has to come to an end at some point," according to the statement.
Edwards, known as the "Cajun King," was known for his memorable one-liners as well as his deft political instincts. Infamously, the lifelong Democrat once said that the only way he could lose a race against a particularly lackluster Republican was if he was "caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy."
Edwards, a native of Louisiana's Acadiana region, enjoyed renewed popularity after his release from prison in 2011 at the age of 83, with his quick wit and flamboyant personality intact. He married Trina Grimes, then 32, his third wife
, after they met while pen pals.
“If I had known how it was going to end, I would have walked into prison a happy man,” he said at his lavish 90th birthday party in August 2017.
They welcomed Eli, Edwards' fifth child, in 2013 and starred in the short-lived reality TV
show "The Governor's Wife." The lifelong Democrat also attempted a political comeback, losing a runoff to a Republican in a south Louisiana congressional race in 2014.
The federal case that led to his conviction in May 2000 involved state riverboat casino licenses awarded during and after his fourth and final term in the 1990s, according to Edwards, who claimed the case was built on misinterpreted, secretly taped conversations and the lies
of former cronies who made deals to avoid jail
Silver-haired, handsome, and endowed with a dry sense of humour and easy charm, Edwards dominated Louisiana politics in the late twentieth century in much the same way that Huey P. Long had dominated it earlier. They shared a populist appeal to the state's downtrodden, and political fortunes that flowed in part from oil taxes
, but Edwards, a consummate dealmaker, had a cooler demeanor.
Edwards was born on August 7, 1927, to a sharecropper and a midwife in Avoyelles Parish, a region settled by 18th century French exiles from Nova Scotia known as Cajuns. His father's ancestors were Welsh, and his mother's were continental French, but Edwards always considered himself a Cajun.
As a teen
, Edwards preached in the Church
of the Nazarene, and he never drank or smoked. Despite his unabashed love of high-stakes gambling, dirty jokes
, and a reputation as a womanizer, he gained a following among Catholics and fundamentalists.
He had four children
with his high school
sweetheart, the former Elaine Schwartzenburg, before they divorced in 1989. Five years later, at 66, he married 29-year-old Candy Picou in a ceremony at the governor's mansion, but they divorced after he was sentenced to prison.
“He was always so upbeat, and the only thing that bothered him was bothering other people,” Trina Edwards said.
According to the statement, his last words were to his 7-year-old son: "Eli told him every night, 'I love you.' And he told Eli, 'I love you, too.'
Edwards, a lawyer, began his political career on the Crowley City Council in 1954 before moving
on to the state Legislature and then Congress, eventually becoming governor in 1972 with the help of organized labor
and Black voters
recognizing their civil rights-era strength.
He appointed more African Americans
to policy positions than any previous governor, spearheaded the adoption
of a new constitution, and overhauled state revenues, tying oil taxes to price rather than volume, and filling Louisiana's coffers during an oil boom.
He left office in 1980, constitutionally barred from a third consecutive term, only to return four years later, easily defeating incumbent David C. Treen, the state's first Republican governor since Reconstruction and a frequent target of Edwards' jabs. "It takes him an hour and a half to watch
'60 Minutes,'" he used to say.
Tragically, Edwards' youngest brother, attorney Nolan Edwards, was murdered by a disgruntled client, putting the campaign on hold for a short time.
A broken-hearted Edwards re-entered the race and won, then paid off his $14 million campaign debts by organizing a $10,000-per-person trip to France
for his friends and supporters.
During their stop in Versailles, he remarked, "I've always wanted to be a king, and now I can be."
However, there was more trouble on the horizon.
Oil prices plummeted, and Edwards imposed $700 million in unpopular taxes.
Meanwhile, his reputation for impropriety caught up with him; he had appeared impervious to previous scandals, even when he admitted to receiving $20,000 from South Korean government agent Tongsun Park.
However, in 1985, he was indicted on federal racketeering charges involving hospital
and nursing home regulations, and by the time he was acquitted the following year, his fortunes had faded: he dropped out of a 1987 runoff against Democratic
Rep. Buddy Roemer, and he appeared politically finished.
During his four years in office, however, Roemer faced political setbacks, including voter rejection of a tax-reform package, and his switch to the Republican Party
did not help.
Former Klansman David Duke, also running as a Republican, joined Edwards in the 1991 race, which was open to members of all parties. Both earned spots in a runoff, which Edwards won by a landslide by stoking fears that an ex-Nazi in the governor's mansion would bring economic ruin.
A popular bumper sticker read, "Vote for the crook; it's important."
Edwards retired in 1996, but was indicted again in 1998, this time for taking bribes to influence
the awarding of casino licenses, according to prosecutors.
The charges remained this time.
This story was contributed to by Associated Press writer
Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge.