Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, who became known as “Joe the Plumber” after pushing then-Sen. Barack Obama on his economic policies during the 2008 presidential campaign, has died, according to his family. He was 49.
“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.’ 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,” his wife, Katie Wurzelbacher, said in a statement provided to CNN.
“My heart goes out to everyone whose lives are impacted by cancer. There are so many ups and downs but we tried to find joy in every day. He fought long and hard, but is now free from pain.”
In July, Wurzelbacher reflected on his pancreatic cancer diagnosis, his family and his faith in an interview with The Blaze’s Glenn Beck, saying, “You can take strength from God and know that there are a lot more good people out there than bad. You know, we have some differences out there but ultimately people want to do good things and that’s been … incredible to see.”
He is survived by his wife and four children.
His oldest son, Joey Wurzelbacher, remembered his father as a man of faith and someone who believed in the country.
“He wanted a united America. Of course, he had his views on that. But look, you know, we live in a wonderful republic where, you know, those views helped cultivate something amazing,” he said Monday.
In 2008, Wurzelbacher emerged as the face of the struggling middle class on the campaign trail in Ohio when he challenged Obama over what he would do for small businesses and taxes. In the now-well-known exchange as Obama campaigned door-to-door in Holland, Ohio, Wurzelbacher said he was looking to buy the plumbing company he was working for and asked whether the Democrat believed in the American Dream.
As CNN reported at the time, Wurzelbacher’s name would be invoked in whole or in part more than two dozen times during the final presidential debate between Obama and then-Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee.
Wurzelbacher went on to run for the US House of Representatives in Ohio’s 9th District in 2012, clinching the Republican nomination before losing to Democrat Marcy Kaptur.
Asked at the time about his role in McCain’s campaign four years earlier, Wurzelbacher told CNN: “Well I don’t know so much as John McCain’s secret weapon, there was no interaction between us, I just happened to be tossing a football with my son, I wanted to buy a business and when it came down to the principle of the matter I don’t think the federal government gets to decide who’s rich and who’s not.”
Following his time in politics, Wurzelbacher returned to “serving the people of America again, doing his trade, doing his craft and doing it well,” Joey Wurzelbacher said.
This story has been updated with additional details.