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President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House on the death of AFL-CIO labor leader Richard Trumka. For access to live and exclusive video from CNBC subscribe to CNBC PRO:

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, a former coal miner who rose to lead the 12.5-million-member labor organization, died Thursday. He was 72.

Trumka, who became leader of the nation’s most powerful labor organization in 2009, died of an apparent heart attack, according to two sources who had been briefed by AFL-CIO aides.

At the time, Trumka “was doing what he loved, spending time, celebrating his grandson’s birthday,” AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler said in a note to staff.

“We are heartbroken,” wrote Shuler, who under the group’s constitution will perform the duties of president until the AFL-CIO’s Executive Council elects a successor to Trumka.

After learning of the labor leader’s death, President Joe Biden called Trumka a close friend. Biden’s 2020 run for the White House was endorsed by the AFL-CIO.

“The labor movement, the AFL-CIO and the nation lost a legend today,” said Tim Schlittner, communications director of the federation, which is comprised of 56 union affiliates and is major force in Democratic politics.

“Rich Trumka devoted his life to working people, from his early days as president of the United Mine Workers of America to his unparalleled leadership as the voice of America’s labor movement,” Schlittner said.

“He was a relentless champion of workers’ rights, workplace safety, worker-centered trade, democracy and so much more. He was also a devoted father, grandfather, husband, brother, coach, colleague and friend. Rich was loved and beloved.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., choked back tears as he spoke on the Senate floor about Trumka.

“I rise today with some sad, horrible news about the passing of a great friend Rich Trumka who left us this morning,” Schumer said before pausing to compose himself.

“The working people of America have lost a fierce warrior at a time when we needed him most.”

Trumka grew up in the coal-mining town of Nemacolin, Pennsylvania. As a college and law school student, Trumka worked as coal miner, as his father and grandfather had done.

At 33, he ran on a reform ticket for the presidency of the United Mine Workers of America and won, becoming the UMW’s youngest leader in its history.

In 1995, Trumka was elected secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, which had been formed 40 years earlier by merger of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Trumka more recently was a major force in Biden’s selection of Marty Walsh as secretary of the Labor Department.

As Biden was assembling his Cabinet, Trumka’s lobbying for the then-Boston mayor was crucial to cementing Biden’s choice to nominate Walsh over Rep. Andy Levin, the Michigan Democrat who was the preferred candidate of some of the AFL-CIO’s affiliated unions

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