Of his work and influence, the New York Times says:
Building on the legacies of Marcel Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters, Joseph Cornell and others, he thereby helped to obscure the lines between painting and sculpture, painting and photography, photography and printmaking, sculpture and photography, sculpture and dance, sculpture and technology, technology and performance art — not to mention between art and life.
And on his personality:
A brash, garrulous, hard-drinking, open-faced Southerner, he had a charm and peculiar Delphic felicity with language that nevertheless masked a complex personality and an equally multilayered emotional approach to art, which evolved as his stature did.
I doubt I was thinking it at the time, but looking back on when I studied Rauschenberg in college, I can see how his approach to art helped shape my worldview - my obsession with how everything connects. (It's that obsession, and the role of food with respect to everything else - especially art - that keeps me blogging and keeps me so interested in food.)
It's a sad thing, for everyone, to lose someone so influential.