Hugo Chavez, the once indefatigable leader of Venezuela, died pleading with his Cuban doctors saying: "I don't want to die", according the one of his closest advisors.
His comments came as it emerged that Chavez's embalmed body will be on permanent display, in the tradition of controversial leaders like China's Mao Zedong and Russia's Vladimir Lenin.
Speaking outside the Fuerte Tiuna military academy in Caracas, where the body is on display, General Jose Ornella said the leader had "suffered greatly", in pain until the end, though admitted he did not know what kind of cancer had taken Chavez's life.
“He couldn’t speak but he said it with his lips . . . ‘I don’t want to die. Please don’t let me die.’ Because he loved his country, he sacrificed himself for his country. He suffered a lot,” he said.
Far-fetched conspiracy theories about Chavez's death have been swirling across the continent, with Ornella's interview adding fuel to the already blazing fire. He said: "I think it will be 50 years before they declassify a document that I think will show the hand of the enemy is involved."
Two million people have already filed past Chavez's body, some waiting more than 10 hours in the heat before shuffling past his corpse, laid in a glass-lidded coffin dressed in khaki combat fatigues and a red military beret.
It will be on display for seven days after Friday's state funeral, which is to be attended by 33 heads of state including Raúl Castro, President of Cuba, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and leaders from across Latin America and the Caribbean. US Congressman Gregory Meeks and former Congressman William Delahunt will represent the United States at the funeral.
Foreign Secretary William Hague has said he was "saddened" by the death of Chavez, who he said left a "lasting impression on the country and more widely".
After the funeral, Mr Chavez's body will be taken to a military museum to lie in state for another seven days.
Vice-President Nicolas Maduro, another leader who has said publicly that he believes Chavez's death was not from natural causes, will be sworn in as acting president later on Friday.
He is the mastermind behind the embalming of Chavez. "“We have decided to prepare the body of our ‘Comandante President,’ to embalm it so that it remains open for all time for the people. Just like Ho Chi Minh. Just like Lenin. Just like Mao Zedong,” Maduro said in a statement to the press.
Once the mourning period for Chávez is over, elections will be called, and Maduro will most likely face Henrique Capriles, Chavez's adversary in the last presidential elections.
Capriles is the governor of Miranda state, a devout Catholic who is the grandson of Jewish refugees.
He lost to Mr Chavez by 1.5 million votes, but it was the closest election in the history of Chavez's rule. Capriles has previously vowed to distance himself from leaders like Iran's Ahmadinejad,
Maduro, a former trade union leader, is Chávez’s chosen successor, and will go into the election riding a wave of affection for the former leader.