'Joe the Plumber,' who confronted Obama during 2008 presidential campaign, dies at 49

Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, who became known as "Joe the Plumber" during the 2008 presidential campaign after questioning Barack Obama about his tax plan's impact on small businesses, has died at the age of 49. File Photo by Alexis C. Glenn/UPI

Aug. 28 (UPI) -- Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, who became known as "Joe the Plumber" during Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, has died at the age of 49.

Wurzelbacher died Sunday after battling Stage 3 pancreatic cancer, according to an online fundraising campaign.

"It's with great sadness that I post this update: Joe passed away earlier this morning and entered our Lord's heavenly home," a friend wrote on the page Sunday. "Joe had been too sick and in too much pain to get out of bed lately and his goal was to get Katie and their kids moved to her hometown surrounded by family."

The Toledo, Ohio, native, who is survived by his wife and four children, became known as "Joe the Plumber" in 2008 after challenging Obama, who was on the campaign trail for president, about his tax plan and how it would negatively affect small businesses.

"Joe the Plumber" quickly became a political celebrity and synonymous with the average American as he joined Republican Sen. John McCain, who was running against Obama, on the campaign trail that year.

"I once told Joe that he was a walking metaphor," friend Kerri Toloczko wrote on Facebook. "He was a remarkable combination of humble and brash. He was a metaphor for what American citizens should be: more important than government with the right to speak truth to power -- and the courage. His response? 'I was just worried about my bank account.'"

Wurzelbacher went on to become a conservative activist and commentator. He ran as a Republican for Ohio's 9th congressional district in the House of Representatives in 2012, losing to Democratic incumbent Marcy Kaptur.

During his campaign, Wurzelbacher defended a video which critics say blamed the Holocaust on gun control.

"All I said was gun control was implemented then governments proceeded to violate human rights," he said in June 2012. "Nowhere did I mention the Holocaust or was I even talking about it."

Two years later, Wurzelbacher wrote an open letter to the parents of the victims of the Isla Vista shooting saying that their children's deaths did not trump his constitutional right to bear arms.

"We still have the Right to Bear Arms and I intend to continue to speak out for that right, and against those who would restrict it -- even in the face of this horrible incident by this sad and insane individual," Wurzelbacher wrote in May 2014.

On Monday, Wurzelbacher's wife called her husband "an average, honorable man trying to do great things for the country he loved so deeply after being thrust into the public eye for asking a question."

"My heart goes out to everyone whose lives are impacted by cancer," Katie said in a statement. "There are so many ups and downs but we tried to find joy in every day. He fought long and hard, but is now free from pain."