Longtime Virginia Senator — and Elizabeth Taylor's 6th Husband — John Warner Dies at 94

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Greg E Mathieson Sr/Mai/Shutterstock Former Sen. John Warner

John Warner, who served in the U.S. Senate for more than three decades and was Elizabeth Taylor's sixth husband, died at home on Tuesday night, reports said. He was 94.

His former chief of staff announced his death; and a former aide told CNN that he died of heart failure and was surrounded by his wife, Jeanne Warner, and other family members.

Prior to his political career, Warner served in the U.S. Navy, volunteering at the age of 17 and working as a 3rd class electronics technician, according to the Associated Press.

He began law school at the University of Virginia in 1949 but left to join the Marines the following year, eventually returning to the school and receiving his degree in 1953.

His military service proved fruitful to his political ambitions as well. He served as secretary of the Navy for the Nixon administration from 1972 to 1974 before being elected to the Senate as a Republican in 1978. He served five terms, rising to chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, before retiring in 2009.

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Warner's personal life was largely defined — in the public, at least — by his high-profile marriages. His first, to multimillionaire heiress Catherine Mellon, ended in 1973, and the couple had three children together: Mary, Virginia and John IV.

But it was his second marriage, to Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor (who had previously been wed six times, including twice to Richard Burton), for which Warner became best known in the celebrity press.

His first meeting with the star was prompted by a visit to Washington, D.C., by the queen of England, who hosted a dinner at the British Embassy. Warner — then a Senate candidate — was asked by the British ambassador to escort Taylor, who was on the guest list for the event.

Warner recounted the couple's initial encounter to PEOPLE in 2011.

James Andanson/Sygma via Getty From left: John Warner and Elizabeth Taylor

"So, I drive up to the hotel where she's staying and gave the doorman $5 and said I need to go pick up somebody and I need to leave the car here," he said following Taylor's death. Greeted by Taylor's personal secretary, he said, "Hi, I'm John Warner. I'm here to pick up Ms. Taylor."

Once the two went downstairs, she inquired about his car. "It's here right out in front," Warner responded.

Taylor, accustomed to limos, asked, "Well, where is your driver?" Warner replied: "You're looking at him."

She gasped. "What?"

On the drive to to the embassy, Taylor asked Warner, "Do you drive yourself often?" "All the time," he said. "Well," responded Taylor, "that's nice."

After the two shared an enjoyable evening, Taylor asked if she could visit him at his horse farm. She did just that within a few days of their meeting — this time arriving in a chauffeur-driven limousine.

"I think she fell in love with the farm, and I guess I came along with the horses," he joked to PEOPLE in 2011.

The two were married in 1976, with Taylor going out on the campaign trail ahead of Warner's 1978 election. They divorced in 1982, but remained friendly.

"We never had any real infractions between us — it was just that I became so absorbed in the Senate," he told PEOPLE in 2011.

"For a while we just managed married life," he said. "Then she started plays in London and that became a little more difficult, and finally we just said, 'Hey, let's always remain good friends but let's take the legal part and … go our separate ways.' And that's how it happened."

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Getty From left: Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner

Warner later married real estate agent Jeanne Vander Myde in 2003.

Upon the news of his death this week, several politicians expressed their condolences.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam wrote in a statement that his state and the country had "lost a giant."

"John Warner truly was the best of what public service and elected leadership should be, and his loss leaves a deep void," Northam said. "Pam and I join the Commonwealth in mourning his death. Our prayers for comfort go out to his wife Jeanne, his three children, grandchildren, scores of friends, and all those who loved him."

Tim Kaine, a Democratic Virginia senator and Hillary Clinton's former running mate, said in his own statement that he was "stunned at the loss."

"Virginia has lost an unmatched leader, and my family has lost a dear friend," Kaine wrote, along with a lengthy statement about his father-in-law's relationship with Warner, stemming from their time in the US. Navy.

Writing that he often turned to Warner for advice, Kaine referenced a conversation he once had with the former senator.

"John and I once talked about how the Senate of today was more partisan and less relationship-based than during his years of service," Kaine wrote. "But at the end of our conversation, he told me: 'But Tim, it's not in the water supply or sick building syndrome. It's in the character and priorities of the people who walk into the building every day. So you have a chance to walk into the Capitol and make it better each day.' "

Speaking to CNN's Dana Bash in 2017, Warner said he hoped his legacy would transcend partisan politics.

"It's just that I was honest, independent in my thinking," he told Bash. "I have crossed the line to support other candidates because I was looking for what's best for Virginia and then what's best for your party."