Muammar Gaddafi first entered the world stage in September 1969 when he led junior army officers in toppling King Idris in a bloodless military coup.
One of his first tasks was building up the armed forces, but he also spent billions improving living standards, making him popular with the poor.
Inspired by Arab nationalist sentiments he abandoned ties with Western powers and pursued aims of uniting Arab countries -- instigating the Arab Federation with Syria and Egypt in 1971 which soon broke down in argument and recrimination.
Gaddafi's relations with the West, became increasingly strained leading to accusations in 1986 that he sent agents to blow up a Berlin club frequented by American marines.
The US responded with air raids hitting one of Gaddafi's homes and killing his adopted daughter.
Gaddafi designed a political system of local congresses where people
were allowed to air their views and appoint representatives to the
General People's Congress. Critics dismissed this move saying the
Congress was dedicated to maintaining power and wealth in Gaddafi's
He poured money into projects like the Great Man-Made River, a scheme to
pipe water from desert wells to coastal communities. The project, which
Gaddafi has described as the eighth wonder of the world, is estimated
to have cost 20 billion dollars.
When Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over the Scottish village of Lockerbie in
December 1988, killing two hundred and seventy people, Western
intelligence agencies were quick to point the finger of blame at the
UN Council sanctions following the bombing crippled Libya's economy but
did not appear to dampen Gaddafi's revolutionary spirit and his
anti-capitalist, anti-Western rhetoric.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela played a key role in
persuading Gaddafi to surrender two Libyan nationals suspected of
involvement in the bombing.
A specially convened Scottish Court found Abdel-Basset al-Megrahi guilty
of mass murder sentencing him to 27 years in prison, he was freed ahead
of fulfilling the term on health grounds.
Gaddafi's quirky style was legendary -- once pitching a tent at Cairo's
presidential compound on a visit. He also ignored traditions of his
conservative society, surrounding himself with women bodyguards toting
He frequently criticized Arab leaders, attacking Saudi Arabia in 2003
for hosting thousands of US troops since the 1991 Gulf War.
Later in 2003 he caught the world by surprise announcing plans abandon its weapons of mass destruction program.
The announcement drew swift praise from London and Washington and an end
to international isolation, with the US and UK ending a broad trade
embargo, and resuming full diplomatic relations.
In June 2009 Gaddafi arrived in Rome for a four day visit, his first
trip to Libya's former colonial ruler where he was welcomed by Italian
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
In 2009 in his first visit to the US since he taking power 40 years ago,
Gaddafi accused major powers on the UN's Security Council of betraying
the principles of the UN charter.
Gaddafi never held an official state position and was known simply as "Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution".