Havel, Czech playwright and president, has died
File - In this Oct. 15, 2009 file photo former Czech President Vaclav Havel is seen during a press conference on occasion of the 20th anniversary of the changes in Czechoslovakia and the fall of the Iron Curtain in Prague. Havel, the dissident playwright who wove theater into politics to peacefully bring down communism in Czechoslovakia and become a hero of the epic struggle that ended the Cold War, died Sunday Dec. 18, 2011 in Prague. He was 75. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, File)
PRAGUE (AP) — Vaclav Havel wove theater into revolution, leading the charge to peacefully bring down communism in a regime he ridiculed as "Absurdistan" and proving the power of the people to overcome totalitarian rule.
Shy and bookish, with a wispy mustache and unkempt hair, the dissident playwright was an unlikely hero of Czechoslovakia's 1989 "Velvet Revolution" after four decades of suffocating repression — and of the epic struggle that ended the wider Cold War.
He was his country's first democratically elected president, leading it through the early challenges of democracy and its peaceful 1993 breakup into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, though his image suffered as his people discovered the difficulties of transforming their society.
A former chain-smoker who had a history of chronic respiratory problems dating back to his years in communist jails, Havel died Sunday morning at his weekend home in the northern Czech Republic, his assistant Sabina Tancevova said. His wife Dagmar and a nun who had been caring for him the last few months of his life were by his side, she said. He was 75.
FILE - President Vaclav Havel and his wife Dagmar wave to the crowd of well-wishers from the balcony of Prague Castle after Havel was sworn in for the second term as president of the Czech Republic in this Feb. 2, 1998 file photo. Havel, the dissident playwright who wove theater into politics to peacefully bring down communism in Czechoslovakia and become a hero of the epic struggle that ended the Cold War, died Sunday Dec. 18, 2011 in Prague. He was 75. (AP Photo/Tomas Turek,CTK)
"A great fighter for the freedom of nations and for democracy has died," said Lech Walesa, the fellow anti-communist activist who founded neighboring Poland's Solidarity movement.
"It is a great pity and a great loss. His outstanding voice of wisdom will be missed," Walesa said. "I am praying for the peace of his soul."
Among his many honors were Sweden's prestigious Olof Palme Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian award, bestowed on him by President George W. Bush for being "one of liberty's great heroes."
An avowed peacenik whose heroes included rockers such as Frank Zappa, he never quite shed his flower-child past and often signed his name with a small heart as a flourish.
"Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred," Havel famously said. It became his revolutionary motto which he said he always strove to live by.
"It's interesting that I had an adventurous life, even though I am not an adventurer by nature. It was fate and history that caused my life to be adventurous rather than me as someone who seeks adventure," he once told Czech radio, in a typically modest comment.