Ferdinand E. Marcos, the crafty, controversial and ruthless former Philippine ruler, died of kidney, lung and heart ailments Thursday in Honolulu, where he had been in bitter and defiant exile for more than 3 1/2 years after fleeing a popular uprising and nearly a year after his indictment on racketeering charges in this country. He was 72.

He had been hospitalized for nearly 10 months with a multitude of ailments, and the fighting spirit that had enabled him to survive years of scorn and degradation seemed to carry over into his last physical struggle. For many weeks he had lingered near death before losing his final battle.

Pacemaker Attached

Doctors, who had attached a pacemaker Wednesday, said lung and kidney failure and a widespread infection contributed to the cardiac arrest that was listed as the cause of death. The life-support equipment that had sustained Marcos reportedly was not disconnected until after he was pronounced dead.

Marcos died at 3:40 a.m. PDT. Shortly afterward, his son, Ferdinand Jr., emerged from his father's room at St. Francis Medical Center and announced that the senior Marcos had been taken to "a higher place."

"Perhaps friends and detractors alike (now) will look beyond the man to see what he stood for--his vision, his compassion and his total love of country," the son said.

Roger Peyuan, a spokesman for Marcos' wife, Imelda, quoted her as telling friends, "Father's not here anymore--he's gone."

Peyuan added that Ferdinand Jr. had arrived from California just in time to see his father alive one last time. As Imelda Marcos, her sister and Ferdinand Jr. watched, Marcos was given cardiopulmonary resuscitation but failed to respond, Peyuan said. The three remained with him and recited a rosary.

Brilliant, vain and outrageously extravagant, Marcos transformed a chaotic, American-style democracy into a virtual dictatorship and cult of personality in a controversial public career that began and ended with two of the most sensational killings in Philippine history.

Rose During American Rule

Marcos rose to prominence in the prewar days of American colonial rule when, as a young law student, he represented himself and won an appeal of his conviction on murder charges in the shooting death of his father's chief political rival.

But as an aging and ailing national ruler, Marcos was unable to dispel a widespread suspicion that his government was behind the killing of Benigno S. Aquino Jr., the president's own political nemesis.

That 1983 assassination revitalized an opposition movement long stifled by infighting and Marcos' increasingly heavy-handed tactics. In another ironic twist, the uproar triggered by Aquino's death eventually thrust his widow, Corazon, into the seat of power in the strategic Southeast Asian archipelago.

She remains there today, struggling to revive an economy ravaged by the mismanagement and theft of Marcos' cronies. At the same time, she is trying to put down both right-wing coup attempts often linked to Marcos loyalists and a Communist insurgency that grew in reaction to the excesses of his rule.

Legacy of Indulgence

Underscoring his fall from grace and power, Marcos left a legacy far different from the forceful, dynamic Asian visionary he claimed to be. Instead, he probably will best be remembered as an exile stained by federal charges that he looted the Philippine treasury to buy pricey New York real estate and mocked by jokes about the thousands of shoes and brassieres left behind in the Manila boudoir of his wife.

The U.S. indictments last October accused the Marcoses and eight of their friends of pilfering hundreds of millions of dollars from their country, but critics have long maintained that the couple's ill-gotten jackpot actually totaled billions of dollars and was stashed in Swiss bank accounts and other investments abroad.

A judge ruled that Marcos was too ill to stand trial.

In Washington, the Bush Administration said the President was "saddened" to hear of the death of Marcos, but announced nonetheless that it would block any attempt to return Marcos' body to the Philippines for burial.