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Thurgood Marshall, a "true American hero" who served 24 years as the Supreme Court's first black justice and a lifetime as a civil rights champion, was remembered Monday for his sense of humor and warmth.

"The members of this court will miss Justice Marshall's wit, warmth and charm," Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist said as the court took the bench to release decisions."I speak for them in expressing our profound sympathy to . . . the Marshall family and all those whose lives were touched by this extraordinary man," Rehnquist told a hushed courtroom audience.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced, but Rehnquist said a special courtroom service for Marshall also would be held at some future date.

Marshall, who retired from the high court 18 months ago because of his age and poor health, died Sunday of heart failure at Bethesda Naval Hospital in the Washington suburbs. He was 84.

The great-grandson of a slave, Marshall was privately gregarious and genial, but more reserved in public. But he cracked up the news conference where he announced his retirement, telling a reporter: "What's wrong with me? I'm old. I'm getting old and coming apart."

As a justice, he opposed the death penalty and was a forceful advocate of abortion rights, affirmative action and legal protections for criminal defendants.

As a member of the court's shrinking liberal wing, Marshall often had vowed to outlive Republican presidents so his replacement could be chosen by a Democrat. It was a promise he could not keep.

After Marshall retired, Republican George Bush named conservative Clarence Thomas to the court, prompting a stormy confirmation fight featuring sordid allegations of sexual harassment.

"We've lost a true American hero," Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said. "He left behind a legacy of hope for racial equality."

President Clinton issued a statement saying he was "deeply saddened" by Marshall's death.

"He was a giant in the quest for human rights and equal opportunity in the whole history of our country," Clinton said. "Every American should be grateful for the contributions he made as an advocate and as a justice."

Retired Justice William J. Brennan, Marshall's closest friend on the Supreme Court, said his "commitment to making the Constitution a vehicle to protect the equal rights of all has no match in American history."

Marshall was to have sworn in Al Gore as vice president last Wednesday, but his health prevented it. The duty went to Justice Byron R. White.

Marshall was hospitalized the next day.

Marshall's 1967 appointment by President Lyndon B. Johnson culminated a successful career as a civil rights attorney, appeals court judge and U.S. solicitor general, the government's top courtroom lawyer.

His most famous case as a lawyer was the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation case in which he represented the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The Supreme Court used the case in 1954 to outlaw racial segregation in public education.

"His victories went beyond those pertaining to race," said A. Leon Higginbotham, chief judge emeritus of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. "For if he had not won the Brown case, the door of equal opportunity would have been more tightly closed also to women, other minorities and the poor."

Among some of the more important decisions written by Marshall for the high court were those saying that shopping center owners' power to restrict demonstrations were limited; that a teacher cannot be fired for speaking out truthfully on public issues; that possessing obscene material within the privacy of one's own home cannot be made a crime.

As the court grew more conservative under Republican presidents, Marshall wrote more and more dissenting opinions.

In 1974 he strongly dissented from a ruling invalidating a plan for busing pupils across school district lines to achieve racial integration, calling it a "giant step backward" from the 1954 Brown decision.

In 1972, Marshall was one of two justices who said the death penalty was unconstitutional under any circumstances, in a 5-4 decision which struck down capital punishment laws then on the books.

The court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, and Marshall often spoke in opposition, telling a New York audience in 1984 that blacks were more at risk of execution in racially charged murder cases than were whites.

Marshall was born July 2, 1908, in Baltimore, the son of William and Norma Marshall. He grew up in comfortable but not affluent circumstances. His father was a headwaiter in private clubs. His mother was a schoolteacher.