Vernon Jordan, executive and civil rights activist who advised Bill Clinton, dies at age 85

Key Points
  • Vernon Jordan died Monday night, his daughter said.
  • Jordan's political experience and knack for communication led him to forge powerful relationships in Washington, most notably with former President Clinton.
Civil rights leader Vernon Jordan dies at 85 years old
Civil rights leader Vernon Jordan dies at 85 years old

Vernon Jordan, the civil rights activist and former close aide to President Bill Clinton, died at age 85.

Jordan died Monday evening, CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin reported. A cause of death was not immediately known.

"Vernon E. Jordan Jr. passed away peacefully last evening surrounded by loved ones. We appreciate all of the outpouring of love and affection," Jordan's daughter, Vickee Jordan, said in a statement, Sorkin reported.

Clinton tweeted later Tuesday that Jordan was "a wonderful friend" to him, former first lady Hillary Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea Clinton, "in good times and bad."

"We worked and played, laughed and cried, won and lost together. We loved him very much and always will," the former president said.

Jordan, who was born in Atlanta and graduated from Howard University School of Law, became deeply involved in civil rights activism in the 1960s, challenging segregation and racially discriminatory policies.

Jordan held leadership roles in the NAACP, the United Negro College Fund and the National Urban League, where he was president from 1971 to 1981.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where he was a board member, called Jordan "an esteemed attorney and leader who helped drive the advancement of civil rights in America over a venerable career."

"Our thoughts are with his family and friends. He will be missed," the fund said.

In Washington, Jordan's political experience and knack for connecting with people led him to forge close relationships with powerful figures, most notably Clinton.

The New York Times reported in 1998 that Jordan did not have to ask to be put through to the Oval Office when he called the White House operators.

"Vernon Jordan was a giant in the civil rights community and in our nation overall," said Damon Hewitt, acting president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Jordan had "a rare understanding of politics, people, and power," Hewitt said, "and he used his insights to make connections once thought impossible and to make a better way for everyone."

Vernon Jordan attends the 40th Anniversary Gala for "A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste" Campaign at The New York Marriott Marquis on March 3, 2011 in New York City.
Andy Kropa | Getty Images

Jordan was also embroiled in the scandal surrounding Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky when she was a White House intern. Jordan denied accusations of wrongdoing related to his reported efforts to help Lewinsky find a job following her departure from the White House.

The final report on the investigation into the Lewinsky affair did not mention Jordan's conduct.

Lewinsky responded to news of Jordan's death on Twitter, saying she "felt sadness" while adding she is "not sure if it's appropriate for me to say anything."

Lewinsky noted she had a "complicated history" with Jordan despite knowing him only briefly, but she added that he "was someone whom you never forget."