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Updated 9:05 p.m. October 29, 1998 -- Sheriff Sherman Block, the longtime leader of the nation's largest sheriff's department, died Thursday night. He was 74.

Block passed away at 7:52 p.m. at USC University Hospital due to excessive bleeding in the brain, said sheriff's Director Natalie Nacias. His family, including wife Alyce, was at his side.

"Sheriff Block had a sudden and rapid deterioration in his condition late this afternoon," Nacias said at a news conference. "The official cause of death was determined to be recurrent intracerebral hemorage."

Block's death came just days after undergoing brain surgery to remove a golfball-sized blood clot. A hospital spokesperson told CBS 2 News Block was recoverying well until his condition started deteriorating today.

"He has been an inspiration to us, and he is going to be tremendously missed," Undersheriff Jerry Harper said. "He has a list of accomplishment in the service of the people of this county that is unprecedented."

Block was in a race for re-election to a fifth term against former sheriff's Chief Lee Baca. Block's health had been a major issue during the campaign.

Despite serious problems in the department during his tenure, Block avoided the kind of wrenching examinations of leadership that engulfed higher-profile counterparts at the Los Angeles Police Department, reported The Associated Press.

"He was a law enforcement legend without peer," said Jay Grodin, personal friend of the Block family and chair of the former sheriff's re-election campaign. "The citizens of this county will miss his firm leadership and steadiness in the time of crisis."

He became the nation's highest paid elected official, earning $234,016 a year, said AP. Block oversaw 12,400 employees, including 8,000 deputies, throughout the county.

"He was not an armchair sheriff. He was involved in the community, ...out in the evenings meeting with the people," recalled county Supervisor Mike Antonovich. "This is a big loss."

Block came to Los Angeles from Chicago in the 1950s and worked his way up department ranks, building an influential roster of supporters, said the wire service. County supervisors appointed Block to the vacant sheriff's office in January 1982, and he was first elected to the post later that year.

Over the years, he earned a bachelor's degree in pollice science, took graduate courses in public administration and attended the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA. He was the first deputy in the department to work his way through each successive rank to become sheriff.

"He has created programs that have positively affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of people throughout the county -- especially young people," Harper said. "He has left a legacy of dedication to all of our communities that will be remembered for years to come."

Block's name will remain on the ballot for Tuesday's election. According to Grodin, Block wanted the race to continue regardless of what happened to his health.

Harper, along with two other department heads, will fulfill the sheriff's duties until the position is filled.

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