Madrid (CNN) -- Former Spanish Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez died at a Madrid hospital Sunday after long illness, his family said. Suarez was 81.
Suarez was Spain's first prime minister in the transition to democracy after the long dictatorship of Francisco Franco, who died in November 1975.
King Juan Carlos, who appointed Suarez prime minister in 1976, issued a televised statement calling him "a great servant of Spain and was not always well understood."
"Suarez is the example that we can together overcome the greatest difficulties," King Juan Carlos said.
Suarez convened the first democratic elections in 1977. He resigned in early 1981, just weeks before an unsuccessful coup attempt by military officers.