Ex-Czech Leader Vaclav Havel Dies

    PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - OCTOBER 5:  Former Czech President Vaclav Havel attends an unveiling ceremony of the new statue of former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson on October 5, 2011, in Prague, Czech Republic. The statue is situated in the Vrchlicky Park in front of the Main Station (former Wilson Station) where the original Wilson's statue was pulled down by the Nazis in 1941.  (Photo by Tomas Krist/isifa/Getty Images)

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    Václav Havel, the dissident playwright who became the Czech Republic's first president after the nonviolent Velvet Revolution that ended four decades of repressive communist rule, died Sunday morning at his house in northern Czech Republic. He was 75. Havel was a figure in the Theater of the Absurd in the vein of playwrights like Jean Genet and Eugene Ionesco; Samuel Beckett dedicated a play to him when he was imprisoned as a dissident in the ’80s. He called the Soviet-backed communist regime “Absurdistan” and was a leader in the 1989 revolution. He became president after free elections the next year, and oversaw the country's transition to democracy and the European Union. He left office in 2003. A former chain-smoker, he had to undergo throat surgery in 2009. Merging art and politics, he was a passionate fan of Frank Zappa and Lou Reed, and became friends with leaders like Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times, and his motto was: “Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred.”

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