The cause was cancer, Albright’s family said in a statement Wednesday.
“When I think of Madeleine, I will always remember her fervent faith that ‘America is the indispensable nation,'” said Biden, who ordered flags at the White House and all federal buildings to be flown at half-staff in Albright’s honor.
“Few leaders have been so perfectly suited for the times in which they served,” Clinton said in a statement. “As a child in war-torn Europe, Madeleine and her family were twice forced to flee their home. When the end of the Cold War ushered in a new era of global interdependence, she became America’s voice at the UN, then took the helm at the State Department, where she was a passionate force for freedom, democracy, and human rights.”
Clinton later told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he had recently spoken with his former top diplomat.
She “spent the entire conversation talking about how Ukraine had to be defended and that we had put a lot of those who said we had made a mistake to expand NATO — she said (Russia’s) not going after NATO yet,” Clinton said on “The Situation Room.”
“She just wanted to support whatever we could do to back Ukraine. And that’s all she wanted to talk about. She was happy. She was upbeat,” he added. “And she didn’t want to venture into her health challenges. She said, ‘I’m being treated, I’m doing the best I can. The main thing we can all do now is to think about the world we want to leave for our kids.'”
“We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us,” she told NBC in 1998. “I know that the American men and women in uniform are always prepared to sacrifice for freedom, democracy and the American way of life.”
Perhaps most notable were her efforts to bring about an end to violence in the Balkans, and she was crucial in pushing Clinton to intervene in Kosovo in 1999 to prevent a genocide against ethnic Muslims by former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. She was haunted by the earlier failure of the Clinton administration to end the genocide in Bosnia.
The breakup of communist Yugoslavia into several independent states, including Serbia and Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia, in the 1990s generated savage bloodshed unseen on the continent since World War II. The term “ethnic cleansing” became synonymous with Bosnia, where Serb forces loyal to Milosevic tried to carve out a separate state by forcing out the non-Serb civilian population.
Rwandan genocide among Albright’s greatest regrets
When pressed by the commission about the argument that the Clinton administration lacked actionable intelligence, Albright said “we used every single tool we had in terms of trying to figure out what the right targets would be and how to go about dealing with what we knew.”
But she also expressed frustration about the reluctance to push ahead with military force against al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
“From my perspective, the Pentagon did not come forward with viable options in response to what the president was asking for,” Albright said.
Lifelong opponent of totalitarianism
Born Marie Jana Korbelova, the daughter of a Czechoslovakian diplomat, in Prague in 1937, Albright escaped then-Czechoslovakia with her family 10 days after the Nazi invasion. Her experience growing up in communist Yugoslavia and then fleeing to the US made her a lifelong opponent of totalitarianism and fascism. She was raised Roman Catholic, though she later converted to Episcopalian, and learned later in life about her family’s Jewish heritage.
Albright graduated from Wellesley College in 1959 and was married to Joseph Albright from 1959 until 1983, when they divorced. They had three children, twins Anne and Alice in 1961 and Katharine in 1967. She attended Columbia University for her master’s degree and Ph.D., which she completed in 1976 before launching on a decades-long career in government service and foreign affairs work under different Democratic politicians and causes.
Albright was aware of her role as a trailblazer and often spoke of the challenges of being the first woman to lead the State Department.
“I think that there were real questions as to … whether a woman could be secretary of state. And not just in terms of dealing with the issues, but in terms of dealing with the people, especially in hierarchical societies. … I found, actually, that I could do that,” she told CNN in 2005. “And people, I think, now can understand that is perfectly possible for a woman to be secretary of state, and I am delighted that there is second one,” a reference to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Following her tenure as secretary of state, Albright served as chairwoman of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs in Washington from 2001 to her death, and she taught at Georgetown University. She was also a prolific author, penning several books, including a memoir in 2003 entitled “Madam Secretary.” She also worked in the private sector for a time.
A forceful voice on foreign policy in retirement
“Instead of paving Russia’s path to greatness, invading Ukraine would ensure Mr. Putin’s infamy by leaving his country diplomatically isolated, economically crippled and strategically vulnerable in the face of a stronger, more united Western alliance,” Albright wrote.
“It took me a long time to find my voice. But having found it, I’m not going to shut up,” Albright said. “I’m going to use it to the best of my ability in terms of making sure that democracy is our form of government and that those around the world that want to live in a democracy have a possibility to do so.”
This story has been updated with additional reaction and details.
CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Ingrid Formanek and Devan Cole contributed to this report.