TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) - During nearly 42 years in power in Libya, Moammar Gadhafi was one of the world's most eccentric dictators, so
mercurial that he was both condemned and courted by the West, while
he brutally warped his country with his idiosyncratic vision of autocratic rule until he was finally toppled by his own people.
His death on Thursday at age 69 - confirmed by Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril - came as Libyan fighters defeated Gadhafi's last
holdouts in his hometown of Sirte, the last major site of resistance in the country.
Their final declaration of victory came weeks after Gadhafi was swept from power by rebels who drove triumphantly into the capital of Tripoli on Aug. 21, capping a six-month civil war.
Gadhafi leaves behind an oil-rich nation of 6.5 million traumatized by a rule that drained it of institutions while the ship of state was directed by the whims of one man and his family. Notorious for his extravagant outfits - ranging from white suits and sunglasses to military uniforms with frilled epaulets to brilliantly colored robes decorated with the map of Africa - he styled himself as a combination Bedouin chief and philosopher king.
He reveled in infuriating leaders, whether in the West or the Middle East. U.S. President Ronald Reagan, after the 1986 bombing that killed U.S. servicemen in Berlin was blamed on Libya, branded him a "mad dog." Former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who fought a border war with Libya in the 1970s, wrote in his diary that Gadhafi was "mentally sick" and "needs treatment."
The sole constant was his grip on the country. Numerous coup and
assassination attempts against him over the years mostly ended with
public executions of the plotters, hanged in city squares.
The ultimate secret of his longevity lay in the vast oil reserves under his North African desert nation and in his capacity for drastic changes of course when necessary.
The most spectacular U-turn came in late 2003. After years of denial, Libya acknowledged responsibility - though in a Gadhafi-esque twist of logic, not guilt - for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people. He agreed to pay up to $10 million to relatives of each victim.
He also announced that Libya would dismantle its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs under international supervision.
International oil companies rushed to invest in Libya's fields.
Documents uncovered after Gadhafi's fall revealed close cooperation
between his intelligence services and the CIA in pursuing terror suspects after the 9/11 attacks, even before the U.S. lifted its designation of Libya as a sponsor of terror in 2006.
Gadhafi was born in 1942 in the central Libyan desert near Sirte, the son of a Bedouin father who was once jailed for opposing Libya's Italian colonialists. The young Gadhafi seemed to inherit that rebellious nature, being expelled from high school for leading a demonstration, and disciplined while in the army for organizing revolutionary cells.
In 1975 he published the "Green Book," his political manifesto that laid out what he called the "Third International Theory" of government and society. He declared Libya to be a "Jamahiriya" - an Arabic neologism he created meaning roughly "republic of the masses."
In the end, rule by all meant rule by none except Gadhafi, who elevated himself to colonel and declared himself "Brother Leader."
Throughout his rule, he was a showman who would stop at nothing
to make his point.
In a 2009 address at the United Nations, he rambled on about jet
lag, then tore up a copy of the U.N. charter, saying the Security
Council "should be called the terrorism council."
In the past decade, power was increasingly concentrated with his
eight biological children, who snapped up elite military posts or
lucrative business positions. His British-educated son Seif al-Islam was widely seen as being groomed as a successor. There was
no immediate word on his fate Thursday.
Gadhafi did spend oil revenue on building schools, hospitals, irrigation and housing on a scale his Mediterranean nation had
Still, about a third of Libya's people remain in poverty.
At least one of his sons, Saif al-Arab, was killed during the 2011 uprising, and another, Khamis, was believed killed. Others, along with his wife Safiya, fled to neighboring Algeria or Niger. Seif al-Islam and Muatassim, who commanded one the military units involved in the crackdown on protesters, fled into hiding when Tripoli fell.
Copyright 2015 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.