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Political columnist Robert Novak dies at 78

Robert Novak
Robert Novak
Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Political columnist Robert Novak, a conservative, pugilistic debater and proud owner of the "Prince of Darkness" moniker, died Tuesday after a battle with brain cancer that was diagnosed in July 2008. He was 78.

His wife of 47 years, Geraldine Novak, told The Associated Press that he died at his home in Washington early in the morning.

A household face as co-host of CNN's "Crossfire," Novak had been a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times for decades.

"He was a Washington institution who could turn an idea into the most discussed story around kitchen tables, congressional offices, the White House, and everywhere in between," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in a statement.

In recent years, Novak ended up actually being a part of a big Washington story, in ways he likely never intended, becoming a central figure in the Valerie Plame CIA leak case.

Novak was the first to publish the name of the CIA employee, and he came under withering criticism and abuse from many for that column, which Novak said began "a long and difficult episode" in his career.

In 1958, Novak joined the staff of the Wall Street Journal and soon became their chief congressional correspondent.

In 1963 he teamed up with the late Rowland Evans Jr. to pen a political column, "Inside Washington," that lasted 30 years. They were journalism's odd couple — Evans was polished and charming while Novak was often rumpled and grouchy.

Evans died in March 2001, and Novak continued to write the column until his brain tumor diagnosis in July.