The iconic "Lion of the Senate," 76, was expected to sit out this convention, perhaps his last. Though battling a malignant tumor in his left parietal lobe, he made a last-minute decision to fly from Massachusetts to Denver with his wife, Victoria.
With his signature white mane slightly thinning in spots but his bulky frame as stalwart as ever – and with his wife at his side – Kennedy strode onstage unassisted as the 4,400 delegates in the hall rose from their seats to deliver their unrestrained cheers and screams.
"It's so wonderful to be here! Nothing – nothing – is going to keep me away from this special gathering tonight," said Kennedy, who was introduced by his niece, Caroline Kennedy, and a stirring video tribute to the lawmaker and sole surviving brother of the fabled Kennedy dynasty that included war hero Joseph Kennedy Jr., President John F. Kennedy and New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
There for ObamaTed Kennedy vowed to be in Washington, D.C., to witness Barack Obama's inauguration. "I pledge to you," he said in his booming Boston accent, "I will be there next January on the floor of the United States Senate when we begin the next great chapter of American progress."
The senator is one of only six in history to serve in the Senate for more than 40 years. Meanwhile, in Denver, the Kennedy magic lived on for one more brief, shining moment.
Loudspeakers blared "Still The One," and the adoring crowd, pumping Kennedy signs to the pop beat, showered an extended standing ovation on the statesman as he kissed and hugged family and Democratic Party VIPs on the podium before leaving the stage with one final wave.
See all of Sen. Ted Kennedy's PEOPLE covers