(CNN) -- Hugo Chavez is one of the leading leftist figures in Latin America -- and one of the United States' most vocal critics.
His personal history is as colorful as his larger-than-life persona.
When first elected in 1998, Chavez became at age 44 the youngest person in the nation's history to become president. He's now 58.
He advances a social agenda seeking to lift people out of poverty, and he is close friends with Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Chavez comes from a military background. He joined the Venezuelan army in 1975 and rose to lieutenant colonel by 1990.
He became involved in a coup attempt against President Carlos Andres Perez and was imprisoned for two years for his role, until 1994.
Upon release, he formed the opposition Fifth Republic Movement, eventually catapulting him to the presidency.
He was sworn into office in 1999 and his government created a new constitution that was approved at the end of same year.
In 2000, he was reelected to the presidency for a six-year term under the new constitution.
But within two years, he faced major setbacks.
An economic crisis ignited violent demonstrations, one of which left 16 protesters and one police officer dead in Caracas in 2002.
Chavez then briefly stepped down from the presidency, but after further unrest from supporters, he was reinstated.
He overcame a recall election in 2004.
He weathered a call for his assassination by conservation Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson in 2005.
In 2006, Chavez rebuked President George W. Bush in a speech at the U.N. General Assembly when the Venezuelan leader stated: "The devil came here yesterday, and it smells of sulfur still today."
By 2011, his health took a turn for the worse. Chavez revealed he was receiving treatment for cancer. He went through several rounds of chemotherapy in Cuba in 2011 and this year.
In May, speculation intensified over who would succeed Chavez when he named 10 people to the highest circle of presidential advisers.
But in July, Chavez announced he was cancer free.