Wurzelbacher rose to prominence after questioning Barack Obama’s tax plan on the 2008 presidential campaign trail and later supporting Republican nominee John McCain
Joe Wurzelbacher, who rose to fame as “Joe the Plumber” after challenging then-presidential candidate Barack Obama on his tax plan in 2008, died on Sunday at the age of 49, according to multiple reports.
The Toledo, Ohio, native was recently battling Stage 3 Pancreatic cancer, according to a GiveSendGo page, which noted that he was a military veteran recently undergoing treatment at the Ann Arbor VA Hospital and the University of Michigan Hospital.
“It's with great sadness that I post this update: Joe passed away earlier this morning and entered our Lord's heavenly home,” a friend wrote on the page. “Joe had been too sick/in too much pain to get out of bed lately and his goal was to get Katie and their kids moved to her hometown surrounded by family.”
Wurzelbacher’s wife, Katie Wurzelbacher, wrote that doctors “ran tests and performed scans which showed a mass in the head of his pancreas,” noting he had lost 70 pounds.
Last month, Wurzelbacher spoke with CBN’s Faithwire about his diagnosis.
“I just honestly started crying,” he told the outlet. “There’s a lot of great people out there…they’re wanting to do good and, when they find they’re able to, most people will.”
“It’s astounding and just gives you more faith in people,” he added, per the outlet. “My wife and I sat and cried for a while and thanked God.”
Wurzelbacher, who is survived by four children between ages 5 and 25, said at the time that his diagnosis “changed his perspective” on life.
“They know daddy has stomach problems and that I’m sick, but they don’t know the full scope of things,” he told the outlet. “Until it becomes necessary to say anything, I don’t want them thinking about losing their father.”
“God doesn’t promise us an easy road,” Wurzelbacher told the outlet. “He just promises to be there for us when we go on these roads.”
The former plumber cemented himself in the political limelight at Obama’s 2008 campaign stop near his hometown.
“I’m getting ready to buy a company that makes $250-280,000 a year. Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn’t it?” he asked Obama, according to a video shared by the Associated Press.
Obama acknowledged that Wurzelbacher would face higher taxes, but wanted to offer smaller businesses a tax break to “spread the wealth around,” per the outlet.
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Republican Sen. John McCain, who was running against Obama, then brought Wurzelbacher along on his campaign stops with his running mate, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Wurzelbacher became a point of focus at the final presidential debate between McCain and Obama, with “Joe the Plumber” becoming a way to reference the average American.
“I once told Joe that he was a walking metaphor,” friend Kerri Toloczko wrote on Facebook. "He was a remarkable combination of humble and brash. He was a metaphor for what American citizens should be: more important than government with the right to speak truth to power — and the courage. His response? 'I was just worried about my bank account. I need to go try and get an interview with that guy ...'"
“Classic,” Toloczko continued, adding “prayers of comfort and strength” as Katie and his children “weather Joe’s loss with a full portion of gratitude for his life and a full portion of grief.”
Katie did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
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