Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, who rose to fame as “Joe the Plumber” after confronting then-presidential hopeful Barack Obama on the 2008 campaign trail, died on Sunday, his family confirmed.

Mr Wurzelbacher, 49, died after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer in July, his wife Katie Wurzelbacher told Fox News.

“Our hearts are broken. We lost a beloved husband, father, son, brother and friend. He made an impact on so many lives,” the widow wrote in a statement.

“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 said.

“He was an average, honourable man trying to do great things for the country he loved so deeply after being thrust into the public eye for asking a question.”

Mr Wurzelbacher became a symbol of the average Joe when the plumber challenged former US president Barack Obama at a campaign event in Toledo, Ohio, accusing the then-presidential candidate’s tax plan of going against the American Dream.

The local man criticised the tax policy as a blow to small business owners like himself, with the standoff erupting in the news cycle and garnering the attention of the Republican Party.

The McCain-Palin campaign then gave him the nickname “Joe the Plumber,” and invited Mr Wurzelbacher to speak at campaign events on behalf of middle-class Americans.

Mr Wurzelbacher’s influence in the election was evident when his name was reportedly mentioned more than a dozen times during the October 15, 2008, debate between Mr Obama and John McCain.

Mr Wurzelbacher would go on to work as an author and motivational speaker. He also ran an unsuccessful bid in 2012 against incumbent Democrat Marcy Kaptur for Ohio’s 9th congressional seat.

“To everyone who has and continues to support us, and there are so many, thank you,” Katie said in a statement. “You helped bring Joe peace and for that I will always be grateful.”

Month before his death, Mr Wurzelbacher’s family set up a GiveSendGo fundraiser to help his battle with cancer, which raised $US139,147 ($216,338) as the time of publishing.

“My heart goes out to everyone whose lives are impacted by cancer,” Katie said. “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,” she added. “I don’t think of him as losing his battle. Because he knew Jesus, his battle was won.”

This article originally appeared on the New York Post and was reproduced with permission

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