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Democratic Rep. Dingell, longest-serving congressman, to retire

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FILE: Oct. 4, 2013: Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich. on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (AP)

Michigan Democratic Rep. John Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history, will not seek reelection to another term.

The 87-year-old lawmaker has served in the House since 1955, when he filled the seat vacated by his late father. He announced his retirement Monday.

Dingell has played a role in a number of major pieces of legislation, including President Obama's health care overhaul. 

Dingell was chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee until he lost the post to California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman in 2009. It was widely thought that Dingell, representing Detroit, was unable to move climate change legislation known as "cap and trade" through his committee -- after the gavel transferred to Waxman's hand, the committee moved the bill, as well as the health care overhaul, through the House. Cap-and-trade, unlike ObamaCare, died in the Senate. 

The retirement was reported first by The Detroit Free-Press and Detroit News. 

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who was elected in 1964, is now in line to become the longest-serving member currently in  Congress. Coupled with the retirement of Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., Michigan is poised to lose more than 90 years of service from its congressional delegation. 

Dingell mastered legislative deal-making and was fiercely protective of Detroit's auto industry.

He became the longest serving member of Congress in history on June 7 when he eclipsed the record held by the late Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

"I'm not going to be carried out feet first," Dingell told The News. "I don't want people to say I stayed too long."

Dubbed "Big John" for his imposing 6-foot-3 frame and sometimes intimidating manner, a reputation bolstered by the wild game heads decorating his Washington office, Dingell has served with every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower. He also was known as a dogged pursuer of government waste and fraud, helping take down two top presidential aides while chairman of a powerful investigative panel.

"Presidents come and presidents go," former President Bill Clinton said in 2005, when Dingell celebrated 50 years in Congress. "John Dingell goes on forever."

Dingell had a front-row seat for the passage of landmark legislation including Medicare, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act, all of which he supported.

He also was accused of stalling the Clean Air Act to help auto interests. His hometown, the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, was home to a Ford Motor Co. factory that was once the largest in the world.

He often has used his dry wit to amuse his friends and sting opponents. Even when he was in a hospital in 2003 following an operation to open a blocked artery, he maintained his humor.

"I'm happy to inform the Republican leadership that I fully intend to be present to vote against their harmful and shameless tax giveaway package," he said from the hospital.

His critics called him overpowering and intimidating. And the head of a 500-pound wild boar looking at visitors to his Washington office only boosted that reputation, as did the story behind it: Dingell is said to have felled the animal with a pistol as it charged him during a hunting trip in Soviet Georgia.

Yet the avid hunter and sportsman, whose office was decorated with big game trophies, was hard to typecast. He also loved classical music and ballet -- his first date with his wife, Debbie, a prominent Democratic activist whom he affectionately introduced as "the lovely Deborah," was a performance of the American Ballet Theater.

Born in Colorado Springs, Colo., on July 8, 1926, John David Dingell Jr. grew up in Michigan, where his father was elected to Congress as a "New Deal" Democrat in 1932. After a brief stint in the Army near the end of World War II, the younger Dingell earned his bachelor's and law degrees from Georgetown University.

Following the sudden death of his father in September 1955, Dingell, then a 29-year-old attorney, won a special election to succeed him.

Fox News' Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.