By Susan Milligan and Joseph Williams, Globe Staff
DENVER -- Senator Edward M. Kennedy made a surprise appearance tonight at the Democratic National Convention, bringing delegates to their feet -- and many to tears.
Battling brain cancer, Kennedy walked on stage giving a thumbs up and looking out over a sea of cheering delegates waving blue-and-white Kennedy placards.
"Thank you, thank you," he said, laughing. "My fellow Democrats, my fellow Americans, it so wonderful to be here. And nothing -- nothing -- is going to keep me away from this special gathering tonight."
"I have come here tonight to stand with you to change America, to restore its future, to rise to its best ideals, and to elect Barack Obama president of the United States.
"I pledge to you I will be there on the floor of the United States Senate next January," he said, as delegates chanted, "Teddy, Teddy."
"And so with Barack Obama -- for you and for me, for our country and for our cause – the work begins anew, the hope rises again, and the dream lives on," Kennedy concluded, reprising his famous 1980 convention speech.
Senator John F. Kerry said he believes that Kennedy will be there for Obama's inauguration in January.
"He was brilliant," Kerry said on MSNBC right after Kennedy's speech. "I think it was one of those moments that everyone will be glad they were here.
Jim Roosevelt, a delegate from Cambridge, called Kennedy's appearance "incredibly inspiring. I can't put it into words."
"He's done that all his life," said Roosevelt, ..... "I've had a hunch for several weeks" that Kennedy would "find the strength to be here and support Barack Obama."
Though the appearance was doubtful until the last minute, Debra Delee wasn't surprised Kennedy broke away from cancer treatment to be here.
"He's a fighter," said Delee, a party official who led the Democratic National Committee's 2004 convention in Boston. "I think it's thrilling. I'm not the least bit surprised he's here. This is a very special moment. Teddy Kennedy is a true American hero."
Kennedy was "truly humbled by the outpouring of support'' and would not have missed the tribute to him "for anything in the world,'' the 46-year Senate veteran's office said.
"Of course I wanted the convention to be a success, but I realized I defined success by whether or not Ted was going to be there,'' said Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who lobbied hard to win Kennedy's early endorsement of Barack Obama.
Kennedy appeared in the Pepsi Center following the airing of a tribute video made by documentary filmmakers Ken Burns and Mark Herzog. The video includes archival footage, still photos, and interviews with Kennedy, Kerry, Georgia Congressman John Lewis, and interviews with people who have worked with Kennedy or have been helped by him.
Among them were Brian Hart of Bedford, who spoke emotionally of losing his son in Iraq in an attack on his unarmored Humvee and of Kennedy's work to ensure that US troops are better protected.
Caroline Kennedy introduced the video saying, “I am here tonight to pay tribute to two men who have changed my life, and the life of this country -- Barack Obama, and Edward M. Kennedy. Their stories are very different, but they share a commitment to the timeless American ideals of justice and fairness, service and sacrifice, faith and family. Leaders like them come along rarely. But once or twice in a lifetime, they come along just when we need them the most."
She paid tribute to Kennedy, saying, "In our family, he’ll always be known as Uncle Teddy. More than any senator of his generation, or perhaps any generation, Teddy has made life better for people in this country and around the world. For 46 years, he has been so much more than just a senator for the people of Massachusetts, he’s been a senator for all who believe in a dream that’s never died."
She also compared Obama to her father, President John F. Kennedy.
"I have never had someone inspire me the way people tell me my father inspired them -- but I do now. And I know someone else who’s been inspired all over again by Senator Obama.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.