NORTH KOREA -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, an enigmatic leader who had led the reclusive state for nearly two decades, has died, according to news reports Sunday. He was believed to be 69.
According to his official biography, Kim was born in February of 1942 in a secret military camp to the first wife of then leader and founder of the communist nation, Kim Il Sung. He assumed power in 1994 after his father died of a heart attack at age 82.
Though he had not acknowledged any serious health issues, it is believed that Kim suffered from bad health for many years.
Kim Jong Il had been traveling around the country earlier this fall, including a visit to China despite rumors that he was believed to be ill with cancer.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who traveled to the capital city of Pyongyang a year ago, said that "the assumption was that he was sick" but still in "decent shape."
The enigmatic leader was a frequent thorn in the side of neighboring South Korea, as well as the United States. There have been reports that power will be transitioned to his son, Kim Jong Un.
The 20-something son, also known as Kim, started his career as a four-star general and was recently given more official duties by his father.
UCLA Professor of Global Studies Russell Burgos said there will be an official period of mourning before any change of hands is made.
"In this interim period especially, nobody is going to make any bold moves."
"I don't know that we want to fear anything," Burgos said. "We want to be patient to see what the regime does."
Regarded as one of the world's most-repressive leaders, Kim Jong Il always cut a slightly bizarre figure. His diminutive stature and characteristically bouffant hair have been parodied by some in the West.
"He's a mysterious person -- I think by design," said Han S. Park, director of the Center for the Study of Global Issues at the University of Georgia and a frequent visitor to North Korea. "Mystery is a source of leverage and power. It's maintaining uncertainty."
But for the citizens of his Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Kim was well regarded.
His father, Kim Il Sung, founded North Korea with Soviet backing after World War II.
Kim Jong Il was just a little boy when the Communist North invaded the American-backed South, sparking the Korean War in 1950.
After the fighting ended, Kim became steeped in his father's philosophy of "juche" or self-reliance -- the basis of North Korea's reclusive nature.
North and South Korea never formally signed a peace treaty and remain technically at war -- separated by a tense demilitarized zone.
North Korea gives Kim's official birthplace as sacred Mount Paektu. The peak, on the northern border with Chinese Manchuria, is the highest on the peninsula and the site where Korean legend says the nation came into existence 5,000 years ago.