The 66-year-old died in his Bergen County home surrounded by his family, whom he arranged to spend Thanksgiving with at Walt Disney World in Florida for 18 years.
Edwards served as a commissioner and chairman of New Jersey's State Commission of Investigation from 1997 until his death. The independent watchdog looks for waste, abuse and corruption at all levels of state government.
During his tenure with the SCI, the commission probed the manipulation and mismanagement of the state's E-ZPass electronic toll contract that resulted in an overhaul of the law governing public contracts.
In a statement, Gov. Chris Christie said Edwards was a role model, mentor and dear friend."
Born in Paterson and raised in Fair Lawn, the Seton Hall Law School graduate served on the Oakland Borough Council and was elected to three terms in the Assembly from 1977 to 1982.
He resigned from the Legislature in 1982 when Gov. Thomas Kean named him chief legal counsel.
Edwards served as attorney general from 1986 until 1989, when he resigned to run in the 1989 Republican gubernatorial primary, where he lost to Jim Courter. He ran again in 1993, finishing second to Christie Whitman, who later became governor.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney said New Jersey lost a statesman. " While always a proud Republican, Cary Edwards came from the all-too-quickly vanishing school that never let partisan sniping overcome and cloud personal relationships," Sweeney said.
In 1995, Edwards opened his own private practice law firm, Edwards and Caldwell LLC, where he worked until 2008.
"I have had the honor of working for seven Attorneys General.
Cary Edwards was one of the finest public servants ever to serve New Jersey," said William Harla, a former assistant attorney general who worked with Edwards while he was AG and when he was chief counsel to Gov. Tom Kean.
He is survived by his wife of 41 years, Lynn, and their two adult daughters.
A viewing will be held Monday from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Carnavale Center, St. Mary's Parish, Pompton Plains. A funeral Mass will be held there on Tuesday at 11 a.m.