Born in the desert near Sirte in 1942, Moammar Gadhafi, the mercurial and eccentric strongman, was the longest-serving leader in both Africa and the Arab world, having ruled Libya since he toppled King Idris I in a coup at the age of 27.

Since his military coup in 1969, Gadhafi, known for his flamboyant dressing style and gun-toting female bodyguards as much as for his iron clasp over the country, styled himself as the country's brother leader and the guide of the revolution.

Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan had once called him a mad dog. Gadhafi was blamed for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jumbo jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, that left 270 people dead.

Gadhafi ruled with an iron hand and all dissent was ruthlessly crushed. The media remained under strict state control.

Gadhafi was also a flamboyant man. Known for his highly decorative military dresses and caps, his noodle hair was his trademark. Whenever he traveled out of the country, he appeared more flamboyant. On foreign trips, he preferred setting up camp in luxury tents instead of staying at five-star hotels, and was always accompanied by armed female bodyguards.

See scenes from a bizarre career.