Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, the Ohio man known as “Joe the Plumber” who gained national attention during the 2008 presidential election cycle, has died, his family confirmed on Monday.
The 49-year-old conservative activist died Sunday, a month after announcing he’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He is survived by his wife and children.
“Our hearts are broken. We lost a beloved husband, father, son, brother and friend. He made an impact on so many lives,” Wurzelbacher’s wife, Katie Wurzelbacher, said in a statement obtained by Fox News.
“When I met Joe he was already known by everyone else as ‘Joe the Plumber’ but he wrote something to me that stood out and showed me who he truly was: ‘just Joe,’” she continued. “He was an average, honorable man trying to do great things for the country he loved so deeply after being thrust into the public eye for asking a question.”
In this Oct. 12, 2008, photo, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama talks to plumber Joe Wurzelbacher at an Ohio event. Wurzelbacher, who came to be known nationally as "Joe the Plumber," died Sunday after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
Joe Wurzelbacher was thrust into the limelight after confronting then-presidential candidate Barack Obama during a 2008 campaign event in northern Ohio. Wurzelbacher accused Obama’s tax plan of conflicting with the American Dream and ruining his goal of purchasing the plumbing business he was working for at the time.
Obama countered him, saying his plan would help small businesses ― like the one Wurzelbacher wanted to purchase ― grow more quickly.
The interaction led Wurzelbacher to become a surrogate for the eventual 2008 Republican presidential nominee, the late Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). During his campaign, McCain frequently referenced “Joe the Plumber” ― in fact, the name came up at least 26 times during the candidates’ presidential debate days after Wurzelbacher spoke to Obama, according to WTOL-TV.
In 2012, Wurzelbacher attempted to run for Congress in a challenge to Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio). Kaptur won by a landslide, receiving over 70% of the vote.
Wurzelbacher garnered national media attention again in 2014, when he insisted that the lives of children were not more important than his right to keep and bear arms. After a man killed six people during a shooting rampage near the University of California, Santa Barbara, the victims’ families blasted “craven, irresponsible politicians” and the National Rifle Association for opposing gun safety.
In an open letter to the families, Wurzelbacher argued that gun control activists “don’t care about your family or your dead children at all.”
“I am sorry you lost your child. I myself have a son and daughter and the one thing I never want to go through, is what you are going through now,” he wrote. “But: As harsh as this sounds ― your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.”
As of Monday, a fundraiser created on the Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo to help support Wurzelbacher’s family during his cancer battle had raised more than $140,000 of its $200,000 goal.