Cuomo, 82, died of heart failure in his Manhattan Apartment at 5:15 p.m. while his son was in Buffalo delivering his second inaugural address of the day.
Cuomo became the 52nd governor of New York State in 1983 and served until he lost a reelection bid to George Pataki in 1994. Remembered as an eloquent orator, Cuomo flirted with a run for president after his keynote speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention, in which he was highly critical of then-president Ronald Reagan's politics, brought him to national attention.
He was widely considered to be the Democratic frontrunner in both the 1988 and 1992 presidential elections, but declined to seek the nomination in both years.
Cuomo was born to Italian immigrants in Briarwood, Queens. He was a standout baseball player at St. John's University and was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates. After he was hit in the head with a pitch, he gave up baseball and returned to school, eventually earning a law degree.
Cuomo first became known in New York City in the 1960s through his involvement with a number of housing disputes, including representing a group of Forest Hills homeowners fighting a housing development proposal around Willow Lake.
He would later run for mayor, losing a tightly contested and contentious election to Ed Koch in 1977. Koch and Cuomo would square off again, this time in the 1982 Democratic Primary for governor. This time Cuomo would be victorious.
Cuomo was known for his liberal views, most notably his staunch opposition to the death penalty, which in a crime-ridden city was a position that likely cost him the mayoral election to Koch.
Despite being Roman Catholic, Cuomo was also a pro-choice supporter, believing the state didn't have the right to ban it. Cardinal Joseph O'Connor considered excommunicating Cuomo for his views.
With the money that he received for signing with the Pirates, Cuomo purchased an engagement ring for his wife, Matilda. The couple had five children and celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in 2014.
Cuomo was unable to attend his son's inauguration on Thursday due to his health, but he was not far from his son's thoughts.
"He is in the heart and mind of every person who is here," Governor Cuomo told the crowd. "He is here and his inspiration and his legacy and his experience is what has brought the state to this point."
The former governor was remembered as a towering political figure by those who knew and served in public office with him.
“From the hard streets of Queens, Mario Cuomo rose to the very pinnacle of political power in New York because he believed in his bones in the greatness of this state, the greatness of America and the unique potential of every individual,” Senator Charles Schumer said in a statement. “From soaring oratory that stirred the very soul to painstaking coalition building to advance policies and accomplishments, he was a colossal political mind and represented the very best of public service.”
“Mario Cuomo was more than a political ally, he was a mentor and a friend,” said Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. “I was never more proud to be a New Yorker than when I listened to him deliver the keynote address at the 1984 Democratic Convention. He spoke directly to the core of America’s most treasured values, to our shared desire for a just and caring world.”