The former Republican governor died Friday according to his wife, Jayne. She said he died at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab in Chicago where he had been recovering for the last few weeks after suffering heart problems. He suffered an apparent heart attack.
Thompson was the longest-serving governor in the state. He was elected four times and served for 14 years from 1977 to 1991.
He loomed large in Illinois politics and in life. Standing at 6 foot 6 inches, he was known as “Big Jim.”
Before becoming governor, Thompson rose to prominence as a prosecutor, making a name for himself as someone who fought public corruption — a reputation he carried into his time in office.
While in office, he built more highways and prisons than any other governor. He expanded McCormick Place, fought to keep the White Sox in Chicago and built the Thompson Center.
He was also behind the largest tax hike, at that point, in state history.
After leaving office, he led the powerful law firm, Winston and Strawn.
Widely respected across Illinois, Thompson was honored in 1993 when the state government building in downtown Chicago was named after him. He also later served as a member of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States to examine the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.