Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has lost his battle with cancer.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced the death of the 58-year-old socialist leader during an emotional televised speech on Tuesday (05Mar13), a day after a government spokesman revealed Chavez had been struck down with a "severe" infection, which had left him in a "very delicate" state.

Chavez, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2011, underwent his fourth cancer-related surgery in Cuba in December (12).

Maduro will take over the presidency until a new election can take place.

Born to a working-class family in 1954, Chavez pursued a career in the military and came to prominence in the 1980s after founding the secretive Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 with the aim of overthrowing Venezuela's Democratic Action government. A failed coup against President Carlos Andres Perez in 1992 landed Chavez behind bars for two years. He founded social democratic party the Fifth Republic Movement upon his release.

He was voted into the office of president in 1998 and took up the post in 1999, winning over the support of the poverty-stricken nation with a new constitution, which increased rights for marginalised groups and reorganised the structure of the Venezuelan government as part of his Bolivarian Revolution.

Chavez, who became the leader of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela following a merger in 2007, won his country's presidential election for the fourth time in October (12), defeating opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.

During his time in office, the politician became known as a controversial figure for his anti-capitalism stance, his alignment with Cuba's Communist dictator Fidel Castro, and his heavy criticism of U.S. foreign policy, often dividing opinion both at home and abroad.

However, Chavez still managed to boast the support of American celebrities like Sean Penn and director Oliver Stone, who documented the President and the South American revolution in his 2009 film South of the Border. The film favourably portrayed the leader as a champion of the poor and detailed his strained relations with the U.S. - where politicians accused him of threatening democracy in Latin America.

Actor and humanitarian Penn even attended a candlelight vigil for the ailing Chavez in Bolivia in December (12) as his unlikely pal was admitted to hospital for cancer surgery.