Johnny Ellis, the longtime state senator from downtown Anchorage and an influential figure in Alaska Democratic politics, has died at age 61.
Former aides and current lawmakers confirmed his death, which took place Thursday at North Arkansas Medical Center in Harrison, Arkansas. Funeral services will take place in Harrison on Feb. 19, said Amory Lelake, a former aide.
Ellis had suffered from multiple sclerosis and survived multiple rounds of prostate cancer, but friends said his death was sudden; he had been texting and talking to them on Wednesday.
Ellis was elected to the Alaska House in 1986 and to the state Senate in 1992. He served in the Senate until 2016.
Sen. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, knew him for decades, succeeded him in office and described his legacy as one that reliably advanced public policy and encouraged others to participate. Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, is a former aide and said he was a “consistent friend and someone you could always get a funny message from.”
Colleagues described him as a regular moviegoer, fastidious in his habits, and an active participant in Democratic politics, aiding fundraisers and helping other candidates. He also was a regular fundraiser for the Key Campaign, which helps Alaskans with disabilities.