Moammar Gadhafi's Life From 'King of Kings' to Dead Dictator

His life was marked by beautiful bodyguards and terror attacks.

ByABC News
October 20, 2011, 8:02 AM

Oct. 20, 2011— -- He was one of the world's most ruthless heads of state. He also was one of the most outlandish. Rarely has the leader of such a small nation played such a large role on the international stage.

Moammar Gadhafi, who had weathered assassination attempts, U.S. air strikes, and years of international sanctions, died today in the desert town of Sirte where he was born, the rebel coalition claimed. He was 69.

Before there was Osama Bin Laden, there was Moammar Gadhafi. For years he was Public Enemy No. 1 in the U.S., feared and loathed for bankrolling terrorism and revolution around the globe.

A Newsweek cover story in 1981 branded him "the most dangerous man in the world." To President Ronald Reagan, he was "the mad dog of the Middle East."

And that was before his regime's most dastardly deed of all: the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, by Libyan agents who planted explosives in a suitcase. The crash killed 270 people, most of them Americans.

'Mad Dog' Gadhafi Is Dead

And then, Gadhafi undertook an astonishing reversal. He was one of the first Arab leaders to denounce the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Two years later, Libya abandoned its weapons of mass destruction programs, assumed responsibility for the Pan Am bombing and agreed to pay $2.7 billion in restitution to the families of Lockerbie victims.

The U.S. reciprocated, resuming diplomatic relations with Tripoli and lifting economic sanctions. But while Gadhafi's political conduct changed, his eccentric behavior did not. Across his four decades in power, he flouted all the rules for how a head of state should act.

He surrounded himself with gun-toting female bodyguards, and for years he traveled with a voluptuous Ukrainian nurse. He brought along a Bedouin tent to sleep in when he traveled abroad, and once attended a summit in Belgrade with six camels and two horses in tow. Gadhafi wore flowing robes, favored oversized sunglasses and received Botox injections.

"Can I ask you something very directly, which may seem rude?" ABC News' Barbara Walters asked Gadhafi in a 1989 interview in Tripoli. "In our country, we read that you are unstable, we read that you are mad. Why do you think this is? … Does it make you angry?"

"Of course it irritates me," Gadhafi replied. "Nevertheless, I do believe that a majority of the people in the four corners of the globe do love me."

Libya was one of the world's poorest nations when Gadhafi was born in a Bedouin tent in 1942 to illiterate parents. Young Moammar showed promise, and so he became the first member of his family to attend secondary school.

He harbored outsized ambitions even as a teenager. Enamored of Gen. Gamal Abdel Nasser's rise to power in neighboring Egypt, Gadhafi began conspiring with high school classmates to stage a similar revolution in Libya.

In September 1969, Gadhafi lead a small band of junior military officers in a bloodless coup, toppling Libya's pro-Western ruler, King Idris. It was an audacious move since Gadhafi was a mere army lieutenant, just 27 years old.

Initially, Gadhafi enjoyed broad support. He took no formal title, calling himself the Supreme Guide or Brotherly Leader. He created a system of government called the "Jamahiriya," or state of the masses, which called for Libya to be governed by local councils. But there would be no collective rule.