When we think of a brutal dictator, we tend to think they lived by the sword, they must’ve have died by the sword – right? That assumption would be wrong for the most part – for most of them anyway.
It seems that our inclinations of these wicked dictators dying at the hands of an assassin, getting slaughtered after being overrun by an opposing arming, or even getting trampled by their enraged populace was not true in most cases. The majority of them died of old age.
However, the ways that these 10 notoriously brutal dictators died is still quite interesting and worth learning about. There were a few who met a worthy ending.
Deaths of 10 Brutal Dictators
1) Francisco Franco, Spain (1892-1975)
Francisco Franco began his brutal ruling of Spain from the year 1939 until he died in the year 1975. Among his questionable practices was the censoring of his political opponents, creating concentration camps for political enemies and instituting death penalties for those who spoke against him and his policies.
Franco’s health worsened during his late 70s, and he was forced to step away from daily duties and when became afflicted by his final illness. The dictator battled Parkinson’s disease, which is a degenerative disease that restricts bodily movement. On October 30, 1975, Franco drifted into a coma. He stayed on life support until November 20, when he died at the ripe old age of 82.
2) Mao Zedong, China (1893-1976)
Communist leader Chairman Mao Zedong from China also died at age 82. And like Franco, Mao struggled with poor health for a lengthy period prior to his death. The very last time that people saw him in public was in the month of May 1976. While it is not exactly clear what ailed Chairman Mao, many believed that he suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is a degenerative condition of nerve cells that make movement difficult.
Mao suffered from a heart attack on September 2, 1976, which led to his downfall. He suffered from different ailments over the days that followed, including a lung infection. Then on September 7, he lapsed into a coma and he never awoke again. Doctors removed him from life support the next day, and then he passed away a couple of minutes after midnight on September 9.
3) Kim Il-sung, North Korea (1912-1994)
Kim Il-sung [JB1] became the very first leader of North Korea when he took office in 1948 and established a hereditary dynasty. His grandson, Kim Jong-un, is the current ruler of the country. However technically, Kim Il-sung is still the country’s president, since he was proclaimed to remain in that position through eternity after he died in the year 1994.
Kim’s regime developed a North Korea that is virtually isolated from the entire outside world. During the late 1980s, a prominent tumor located on his neck became very visible during the broadcasts of official news. This was in spite of his trying to stand in way to hide its growth from the cameras.
Ultimately, a heart attack wound up killing Kim in the end. He collapsed on July 8, 1994, and then died a few hours later at the age of 82.
4) Augusto Pinochet, Chile (1915-2006)
Augusto Pinochet became dictator of Chile by a military coup in the year 1973. His regime was well known for the killing and imprisonments of dissidents, and for also torturing thousands of citizens.
But Pinochet agreed to step down peacefully in the year 1990 as he handed power over to Patricio Aylwin Azócar who had been democratically elected. All of his human rights crimes eventually came back to torment him. He had been placed under house arrest while in Great Britain during the year 1998, and was given back to Chile 2 years later – supposedly for medical reasons which included mild dementia.
While his legal battles waged on, Pinochet’s health keep on plummeting. After being charged with 23 counts of torture, one count of murder, and 36 counts of kidnapping, Pinochet suffered a major heart attack on December 3, 2006. He then died at the age of 91 while in intensive care on December 10 and was never convicted for his crimes.
5) Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania (1918-1989)
Romania’s very last Communist leader met his final end on Christmas Day in the year 1989. The nation’s mood was quite rebellious that December, and Ceausescu had attempted to pacify his citizens with a carefully controlled public speech on December 21. The crowd responded by booing him. Ceausescu’s refusal to fully understand what this heckling really meant to his leadership only bolstered the rebellion that was rising against him.
The very next day, Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, took a helicopter and escaped Bucharest just a few minutes before the arrival of an angry mob. But this respite was only temporary. The army later captured the couple and gave them a show trial, where they were given a death sentence for corruption and genocide. Even though there was usually a 10-day period for contesting the ruling, this execution was carried out immediately.
The hands of Ceausescus were tied and then they were placed against a wall. Then a firing squad promptly riddled them with bullets. One of the executioners named Dorin-Marian Cirlan described the experience as quite haunting. “He looked into my eyes and realized that he was going to die right then, not sometime in the future, then started to cry,” Cirlan commented of Ceausescu.
6) Saddam Hussein, Iraq (1937-2006)
The brutal dictator Saddam Hussein from Iraq had his seat of power removed when the United States invaded Iraq in the year 2003. United States forces later discovered Hussein hiding deep in a “spider hole” that was located in the ground close to his hometown. He was promptly arrested, and later in the year 2006, he received a death sentence for the heinous murder of 148 Iraqis in the year 1982. This was a massacre against his own people that he ordered because of an attempted assassination.
On December 30, 2005, Saddam Hussein was taken to the gallows located at Camp Justice, which was located northeast of Baghdad. A cellphone video that was later leaked showed that Hussein became very vocal as he died, shouting back at hecklers, proclaiming himself as Iraq’s savior and demanding that Iraqis to fight off against the hated Americans. His body was later buried at his hometown of Al-Awja.
7) Muammar Gadhafi, Libya (1942-2011)
Muammar Gadhafi became the leader of Libya during the year 1969 and kept a firm grip on his dictatorship until the year 2011. Then he fled the city of Tripoli as it was taken over by rebels during the Liberian Civil War. No one knew where you was for several months, but most experts claim he hid somewhere within his hometown of Sirte with a group of loyalists.
When Sirte fell on October 20, Gadhafi and his group attempted to escape within a convoy that was heavily bombed by NATO forces. He hid himself within a drainage pipe alongside of a road, which was where Libyan forces found and captured him.
What ensured after this is heavily disputed. Original reports claimed Gadhafi got accidentally killed in crossfire, but this story is not supported by existing evidence, as stated in a 2012 Human Rights Watch report. Videos from various cellphones show Gadhafi alive and bloodied while in captivity. They also show him getting dragged, getting beaten, and getting poked with a bayonet. At some point during this captivity, he got shot in the head. Gadhafi’s body was then displayed inside a freezer for several days in the city of Misrata.
8) Joseph Stalin, Russia (1878-1953)
Joseph Stalin was responsible for more deaths than anyone during the twentieth century, but trying to determine his exact victim count is no easy task. Official records indicate that at least 3 million died from executions and in prison camps under his rule, but most experts believe that numbers are very likely inaccurate. They attribute several million more deaths that he caused from famines and the like that were brought on by his cruel policies. Most historians of today believe Stalin’s death count is more like 15 to 20 million deaths.
If this death count bothered Stalin, then he did a masterful job of hiding it as he lived to be 73 years of age. One night, after enjoying a movie and a late-night dinner with a few political colleagues, Stalin went to bed in the early morning hours of March 1, 1953. He didn’t come out of his room the next morning. His guards had been ordered not to disturb him, so they were afraid to check on him. He was discovered on the floor of his room around 10 or 11 pm that night. He was on the floor, soaked in his own urine, after suffering a major stroke – but he was still alive.
He barely hung on until March 5 when he finally passed away. Regarding his final moments, his daughter had written, “At the last moment he suddenly opened his eyes. It was a horrible look — either mad, or angry and full of fear of death. … Suddenly he raised his left hand and sort of either pointed up somewhere, or shook his finger at us all. … The next moment his soul, after one last effort, broke away from his body.”
9) Benito Mussolini, Italy (1883-1945)
Benito Mussolini, who was an Italian Fascist leader, got ousted from his rule in the month of July 1943 when Italy’s odds of enjoying a World War II victory became bleak. This ouster marked the beginning of the end for Benito Mussolini. He was arrested immediately and was imprisoned at the Campo Imperatore Hotel which was located in the central region of Italy. In September, German paratroopers swooped in and rescued him. He went to Germany, and later went Lombardy when is in northern Italy. Mussolini he seemed to understand that his end was near. In the year 1945, he remarked to an interviewer, “Seven years ago I was an interesting person. Now I am a corpse.”
In in only a few months after that, he did become a corpse. In the month of April 1945, Mussolini along with his mistress Clara Petacci were caught during an escape attempt as they tried to go to Spain. They were captured by communist partisans, who took them hostage and later shot them. Afterwards, their bodies were hung upside down in Milan’s Piazzale Loreto – which was the execution site for 15 anti-fascists the previous year. Citizens spit of their bodies and hammered them with rocks. Photos of their grisly corpses were very widely circulated.
10) Adolf Hitler, Germany (1889-1945)
Adolf Hitler is a notorious exception to the trend of dictators surviving into old age. In the waning days of World War II, with the Russian Army closing in on Berlin, Hitler holed up in a bunker under the Reich Chancellery building.
As bad news poured into the bunker, Hitler made his preparations to die on his own terms. He heard of Mussolini’s death and the desecration of the corpse and ordered that his own body be burned. He married his mistress, Eva Braun, and ordered cyanide capsules tested on a dog belonging to the children of German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. On April 30, Hitler and Braun went into a lower room in the bunker. Braun apparently took cyanide, while Hitler shot himself in the temple. Hitler’s lieutenants followed his wishes and burned the corpses, though the burning was not thorough. The Russian army discovered the remains, identified the bodies, and then destroyed what was left to prevent Hitler’s grave from becoming a shrine.