Chavez was 58 years old. He was born July 28, 1954 in the rural Venezuelan village of Sabaneta in Barinas State, the second of seven children born to two schoolteachers.

After attending the Venezuelan Academy of Military Sciences, Chavez began a career in the military. He staged a failed coup in February 1992, unsuccessfully trying to oust President Carlos Andres Perez. President Rafael Caldera, who was elected in 1994 after Perez was impeached, freed Chavez, who then toured Venezuelan to promote his social revolution.

Chavez and his followers founded the Fifth Republic Movement political party, promising social and economic reform, and he won the presidency in 1998.

As president, Chavez was known for touting "Socialism of the 21st Century" and for his ties to Cuba, which he supplied with oil.