John William Warner III was born on Feb. 18, 1927, in Washington to Dr. John Warner Jr. and Martha (Budd) Warner. His father was an obstetrician-gynecologist in Washington, his mother a homemaker.
Mr. Warner attended St. Albans boarding school in Washington but left at age 17 to join the Navy and serve in the final months of World War II. He never formally received a high school diploma. He went on to enroll at Washington and Lee University, graduating in 1949, and at the University of Virginia School of Law, before interrupting his studies there to join the Marines during the Korean War.
After military service, he returned to law school and was awarded a degree in 1953. He then became a law clerk with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and, from 1956 to 1960, an assistant U.S. attorney in the district. He worked in private law practice for most of the 1960s until being appointed under secretary of the Navy by President Richard M. Nixon. He became secretary in 1972 and served for two years. In 1976 he was the federal coordinator of the national bicentennial celebration.
For many years he raised beef cattle on a farm in Middleburg, Va.
Mr. Warner endured a reputation as something of a playboy after his divorce from a member of the wealthy Mellon family, his marriage to Ms. Taylor and a public relationship with the newscaster Barbara Walters. But his long service in the Senate and a record marked by an independent streak ultimately overshadowed much of that image.
He is survived by his wife, Jeanne (Vander Myde) Warner; three children from his first marriage, to Catherine Mellon — John Warner IV, Virginia Warner and Mary Conover; and two grandsons.
Virginia’s current senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats, praised Mr. Warner on Wednesday as a friend, ally and informal adviser and described him as a model of what a politician should be. Mark Warner, who is no relation, had once tried to unseat him.
“John Warner and I ran against each other back in 1996,” Mr. Warner said in a statement. “I’ve often said since that the right Warner won that race.”
Jordan Allen contributed reporting.