Sean Penn, Oliver Stone and Billy Bragg were among the first celebrities to pay their respects to Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, who lost his battle with cancer on Tuesday (05Mar13).

Actor and humanitarian Penn, one of Chavez's most vocal supporters in Hollywood, has written a touching tribute to the Venezuelan President, calling him "a friend I was blessed to have".

In a statement, he said, "Today the people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion. I lost a friend I was blessed to have. My thoughts are with the family of President Chavez and the people of Venezuela. Venezuela and its revolution will endure under the proven leadership of Vice President Maduro."

Director Stone, who endorsed Chavez in his 2009 documentary South of the Border, offers, "I mourn a great hero to the majority of his people and those who struggle throughout the world for a place. Hated by the entrenched classes, Hugo Chavez will live forever in history. My friend, rest finally in a peace long earned."

British socialist star Bragg took to Twitter.com to alert fans of the tragic news, writing, "Sorry to hear of the death of Hugo Chavez, democratic socialist President of Venezuela."

He added: "Chavez won 13 elections deemed to be free by people such as Jimmy Carter. That's Jimmy Carter, you right wing nut-jobs... I'm not claiming Chavez was a saint. He believed that his enemy's enemy was his friend. And that is never a pretty sight, whoever does it."

The late leader courted controversy throughout his 14 years in power for his anti-America stance. A state funeral will be held on Friday (08Mar13).

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