Fidel Castro was born in 1926 to a wealthy sugar planter. He turned to revolutionary politics as a young man.
After two years in jail for mounting a failed coup, he went into exile in Mexico. (Castro is standing on right of woman in white.)
Castro finally assumed power in Cuba on New Year's Day, 1959, after ousting Fulgencio Batista.
In 1961, Castro led his troops against 1,500 Cuban exiles. The exiles were supported by the CIA, who landed in the Bay of Pigs with the purpose of ousting his government.
Perhaps Castro's biggest test came in 1962, when US President Kennedy warned him to remove Soviet missiles from Cuba.
In the end, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and Castro removed the missiles, and the threat of nuclear war was averted.
He enjoyed sports, even the US game of baseball, playing here at a teachers' college in the Sierra Maestra in 1962.
Many liberal Cubans considered him an oppressive dictator.
Thousands fled their homeland for the US, often on dangerous makeshift rafts.
But Fidel Castro retained enough public support to become one of the world's longest-serving leaders.
After intestinal surgery in 2006, he handed day-to-day power to his brother Raul. Then he made only rare recorded appearances, before stepping down in February 2008.