BOSTON — Jules Eskin, the principal cellist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for more than half a century, has died after a long struggle with cancer. He was 85.

Eskin died Tuesday at his home in Brookline, said BSO spokeswoman Bernadette Horgan.

Eskin began his tenure as the orchestra’s principal cellist in 1964. He played for five music directors and participated in the orchestra’s many tours, including its historic 1979 tour to China.

Eskin also was a founding member of the Boston Symphony Chamber Players and toured the world, including the Soviet Union for a series of concerts in 1967. He recorded extensively with the Chamber Players in repertoire ranging from Mozart to Michael Gandolfi. The ensemble’s “Profanes et Sacrees: 20th-Century French Chamber Music,” released in 2011, was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance.

Eskin was married to BSO violinist Aza Raykhtsaum. The couple celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary in January.