Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, considered the nation's doctor by many Americans, passed away Monday at his home in Hanover, N.H.
Koop, an evangelical Christian, was nominated in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan and served seven years.
Because of his faith, Koop personally opposed premarital sex and homosexuality. Still, he shocked many Christians when he endorsed condoms and sex education to stop the spread of AIDS.
"He really changed the national conversation, and he showed real courage in pursuing the duties of his job," said Chris Collins, a vice president of amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, with the National Institutes of Health, agreed.
"A less strong person would have bent under the pressure," he said. "He was driven by what's the right thing to do."
The 6-foot-1 Presbyterian was an outspoken opponent of abortion, a subject he addressed in his book and film series, "Whatever Happened to the Human Race."
The National Right to Life Committee released a statement saying Koop provided "a voice for the voiceless."
He also led a crusade to end smoking in America.
"The nation has lost a visionary public health leader today with the passing of former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who was born and raised in Brooklyn," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
"Outspoken on the dangers of smoking, his leadership led to stronger warning labels on cigarettes and increased awareness about secondhand smoke, creating an environment that helped millions of Americans to stop smoking -- and setting the stage for the dramatic changes in smoking laws that have occurred over the past decade," he added.
Koop was 96 years old.