He was loved and hated at home…respected and ridiculed abroad.
Born to a family of teachers in 1954, Chavez joined the Venezuelan army, where he came to despise the ruling elite.
In 1989, when a bad economy led to riots and hundreds were killed, Chavez was appalled by orders from then President Carlos Andres Perez to shoot civilians.
Three years later, Chavez, now a lieutenant colonel, led 12,000 troops in a failed coup against Perez.
He was jailed, but then pardoned two years later, becoming a hero to the left and the poor.
In 1998, Chavez rode a populist wave to become president, but was quickly overthrown, only to return to power two days later.
He was overwhelmingly reelected in 2006, but was hardly a democratic ruler, using his power to silence opponents and journalists and to nationalize private companies while championing the poor by building schools and health clinics.
But, critics say his attempts to remake Venezuela backfired, costing the country billions, constricting freedom of speech and leading to conflicts with the U.S.
Perhaps, Chavez was best known for his theatrics. On his weekly TV show, he sang to the audience.
He bonded with Cuba’s Fidel Castro, who became his mentor, embraced Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and supported several left-leaning countries in Latin America. Known for his taunts towards the U.S., he once called former President George W. Bush “the Devil” at the United Nations.
Chavez also embraced Christianity, crying during a pre-Easter mass, and praying for a longer life, saying, “I have more to do for this country.”
Toward the end of his life, Chavez battled cancer, and sought treatment in Cuba where he was greeted by President Raul Castro and photographed several times with Fidel Castro.
After an apparent recovery, Chavez was re-elected last fall to his fourth term in office…but shortly afterward was felled again by cancer. After further medical care in Cuba, he returned home to Venezuela, where he spent his final days.
Hugo Chavez, a man of extremes…leaving a dramatic mark on Latin America.