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McGeorge Bundy, who as a young dean at Harvard was chosen by President John F. Kennedy to be one of his "best and brightest" and went on to play a key role in the Cuban missile crisis, the Bay of Pigs invasion and the buildup in Vietnam, is dead at 77.

Bundy died of a heart attack Monday at Massachusetts General Hospital, said Jim Rowe, a Harvard University spokesman and family friend."He was intelligent, really trustworthy. People always had confidence in Mac," said John Kenneth Galbraith, a Kennedy economic adviser and ambassador to India. "The United States and the world have lost one of their senior citizens."

President Clinton praised Bundy as "a central figure in the postwar history of our nation."

Bundy supervised the staff of the National Security Council and was among the group of young Kennedy advisers that also included Ted Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

Bundy was a firm backer of the Bay of Pigs invasion but more cautious about the Cuban Missile Crisis 11/2 years later.

It was Bundy who in 1962 broke the news to Kennedy while the president was still in his bathrobe and slippers: "Mr. President, there is now hard photographic evidence . . . that the Russians have offensive missiles in Cuba."

"Mac was a brilliant adviser to President Kennedy and one of the ablest people I've ever met," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. "We couldn't have had the New Frontier without him."

An early supporter of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Bundy later expressed concern about the war, and remained part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's inner circle even after leaving the White House in 1966.

After the Tet offensive of 1968 brought the heaviest losses of the war and communist troops penetrated the U.S. Embassy compound, Bundy met with Secretary of State Dean Rusk and other advisers at the White House.

"Our position may be truly untenable," Bundy was quoted as saying, according to recently declassified notes. "Contingency planning should proceed toward possibility that we will withdraw with best possible face and defend the rest of Asia."

A month later, as Bundy and other advisers warned that the war had become unsupportable politically and unwinnable on the battle field, Johnson was persuaded: "Adjust our course. Move to disengage," Johnson wrote to himself.

The president announced a halt in the bombing of most of North Vietnam, called again for peace talks and dropped his own bombshell - that he would not run for re-election with "the world's hopes for peace in the balance."

Bundy was president of the Ford Foundation from 1966 to 1979, did a 10-year stint as a professor of history at New York University, then campaigned for a nuclear test-ban treaty as chairman of the Carnegie Corp.'s committee on reducing the nuclear danger.