They remembered him for his gentility in a medium known for shouting, for his ability to provoke both deep thought and howling laughter, for his courage in the grip of pain and the knowledge of his imminent death.
David Brudnoy, the talk radio host who spent decades prying open hearts and minds, died at 6:10 p.m. yesterday after spending many of his last hours with scores of friends who visited his room at Massachusetts General Hospital.
In recent days, 30 people from WBZ radio alone visited, said Ted Jordan, the station's general manager. Jordan said Brudnoy died "with the same class and dignity" he showed on the air.
"I think he was the best talk-show host in America," said Jordan, recalling how Brudnoy was at such peace with himself that he was laughing hysterically only a few hours before he died.
State and city officials last night spoke of Brudnoy as a friend and a stilled voice that leaves a deep void in the city.
"David has left us all a huge inheritance," Governor Mitt Romney said. "It's an inheritance rich in tolerance, in faith, in the greatness of humanity, in respect for all people, and in finding humor in every corner of life."
Mayor Thomas M. Menino reflected: "He was an institution in our city, which he knew better and loved more than most . . . The voice has been silenced, but the memory will last forever."
Senator Edward M. Kennedy said: "David was a 'profile in courage' kind of guy -- tackle any issue, tackle any illness. It's no wonder [he] was such a hit. He couldn't care less about your party label, as long as you knew what you were talking about, because he always did."
Senator John F. Kerry added: "Today America lost a courageous and eloquent voice who touched our hearts and challenged our collective conscience. David was a friend to our family and a fighter who loved his life and lived every precious moment to its fullest."
Former Boston mayor Raymond L. Flynn called Brudnoy's death a "very sad day for Boston."
"The tone that he set for the city, it wasn't contentious, it wasn't divisive, it was an opportunity for the legitimate hearing of very important, yet controversial issues," Flynn said.
"He could give you an opportunity to be heard on issues that he fundamentally disagreed with, many people disagreed with, but nonetheless he would allow your point of view to be articulated in a respectful way."
A former Yale classmate and fellow talkshow host, Christopher Lydon, called Brudnoy "a connoisseur of conversation."
"As much as anyone, he made the mold of smart, serious, sustained talk radio," said Lydon, the founding host of WBUR's "The Connection." "People will never forget how gracefully he dealt with pain, but let's remember also how he reveled in the work and the life he made for himself.
On Wednesday night, former House speaker Thomas M. Finneran stopped by Mass. General and sat with Brudnoy, who asked that he pray for him, that he would die soon, and that his pain would not be prolonged.
"I always felt he was a civic treasure," said Finneran, a longtime friend. "He was the absolute perfect antidote to everything people find so discouraging to our age. We've become coarse and vulgar as a people and a society. David moved in exactly the opposite direction . . . He moved to demonstrate that you could educate, debate, inspire, encourage, and get people to reflect.
"He was fabulous, in a league of his own."
Globe correspondent Stephanie L. Vosk contributed to this report.