Former President Kim Dae-jung, a towering figure in South Korea's struggle for democracy who won the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize for seeking rapprochement with the communist North, died on Tuesday at the age of 85.
An official at a Seoul hospital treating Kim for pneumonia confirmed the death. Local media reports said he died of heart failure.
In his final year, Kim saw his efforts unravel as relations with the North headed back into the freezer under the South's current conservative President Lee Myung-bak.
The former political prisoner, popularly referred to by his initials "DJ", was elected South Korea's president in December 1997, a victory that marked the first time in South Korea that power had shifted from a ruling party president to a president from the opposition.Internationally, Kim is best known for his historic handshake and embrace of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in June 2000, at the first summit meeting of the leaders of the two countries on the divided peninsula.
The meeting was the culmination of the "Sunshine Policy" that won Kim the Nobel prize -- his idea of prodding the North forward with the promise of incentives and reducing the strain of eventual unification through economic integration.
But at home, it was Kim's life-long struggle against South Korea's early repressive authoritarian leaders that defined him and made his name a household word and inspiration for generations.
Kim was a devout Catholic who was an inspiring speaker in both Korean and English. He shuffled when he walked due to injuries suffered to his legs in an assassination attempt in the 1970s when a truck rammed his car off a road.
The exact date of Kim's birth is uncertain, but several biographies have it listed as January 6, 1924.