How 8 Vicious Dictators Met Their End

"Death is the wish of some, the relief of many, and the end of all." – Seneca

Today marks the anniversary of Benito Mussolini's birth, the dictator that founded the Fascist Party in Italy. While this brought into the world a future ruthless leader, his death proved far more interesting. It was proof that the powerful and cruel can be beaten, and he certainly was far from the only tyrant who didn't die peacefully of old age. Here's a look back at how eight vicious dictators met their end.

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Benito Mussolini: Died April 27, 1945

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With Italy and Germany on the brink of defeat in World War II, Mussolini attempted to flee to Spain. While en route to Switzerland, Mussolini and his mistress were captured and shot to death by Italian partisans. Mussolini's body dumped on the road, abused, and later hung upside down in front of a fueling station.

***Interesting Fact: There had been a previous attempt to assassinate Mussolini in 1926.

Want more of the gruesome details? Click here to read on.

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Adolf Hitler: Died April 30, 1945

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As it became clear that Germany was losing World War II, Hitler became gradually more paranoid and retreated to a bunker. As armies approached Berlin from two directions, Hitler married his mistress, Eva Braun, and on the next day, April 30th 1945, killed himself.

***Interesting Fact: On the day before his death, Hitler dictated his last will to his secretary, and documented his Political Statement.

Click here for an in depth breakdown of the events leading up to Hitler's suicide.

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Joseph Stalin: Died March 5, 1953


Stalin ruled the Soviet Union as its Communist leader, and was responsible for the deaths of 20 to 60 million of his own people. Despite his crimes against humanity, Stalin lived until the age of 74. On March 5, 1953 he suffered a stroke and died four days later. 

***Interesting Fact: After his death, Joseph Stalin's remains were embalmed and put on display next to Vladimir Lenin. Eight years later, the Soviet government ordered Stalin's remains removed from the tomb. 

Read more information on the death of Joseph Stalin here.

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Mao Zedong: Died September 9, 1976

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Mao Zedong started a cultural revolution in China that lasted from 1966 until 1976 and spun out of control. Throughout the 1970s, Mao's health steadily deteriorated, and by July of 1976, Zedong was confined to a hospital bed in Beijing. He suffered two major heart attacks in early September, and died on September 9, 1976 after being removed from life support.

***Interesting Fact: Mao Zedong's leadership caused more deaths among his own people than that of Joseph Stalin or Adolph Hitler.

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Pol Pot: Died April 15, 1998

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Known as the "Butcher of Cambodia," Pol Pot was a notoriously brutal leader. When Pol Pot called for the extermination of all Vietnamese after an uprising in May 1978, Vietnam launched an all-out invasion of Cambodia, and overthrew Pol Pot. He fled to the Thai borderlands, but was put on trial in absentia in 1980 and sentenced to death. He returned to Cambodia, however, in 1989 when the Vietnamese withdrew their troops.

"In June of 1997, Pol Pot was arrested and put on trial only for the murder of his friend Son Sen. He was sentenced to house arrest for the remainder of his life.

On April 15, 1998, Pol Pot heard the news on a Voice of America radio program that he was going to be turned over to an international tribunal for trial. He died that night; the official cause of death was heart failure, but his hasty cremation raised suspicions that it might have been suicide." – Kallie Szczepanski, Asian History Expert

***Interesting Fact: Pol Pot (which isn't actually his real name) flunked out of college in 1953.

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Emperor Hirohito: Died January 7, 1989

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Despite being considered a war criminal by many, Emperor Hirohito was Japan's longest serving emperor. During his reign he authorized the use of chemical weapons against the Chinese, and also gave informed consent prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. 

"On January 7, 1989, Emperor Hirohito died of duodenal cancer. He had been ill for more than two years, but the public was not informed of his condition until after his death." – Kallie Szczepanski, Asian History Expert

***Interesting Fact: After World War II, America downplayed Hirohito's crimes, and he was not put on trial. He did, however, have to renounce his own divine status.

Read more about Japanese and American relations after World War II.

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Kim Jong-il: Died December 17, 2011

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Kim Jong-il was widely considered to be one of the 5 Worst Dictators in Asia. He was known for indulging in his expensive tastes while his citizens starved to death, and for his acts of state-sponsored terrorism. According to news reports, Kim Jong-il died of a heart attack during a train ride.

***Interesting Fact: Kim Jong Il was a big fan of guitar legend Eric Clapton, and once invited the musician to play in Pyongyang. Clapton did not accept the invitation.

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Saddam Hussein: Died December 30, 2006

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"In 1990, Saddam ordered Iraqi troops to take the country of Kuwait. In response, the United States defended Kuwait in the Persian Gulf War.

On March 19, 2003, the United States attacked Iraq. During the fighting, Saddam fled Baghdad. On December 13, 2003, U.S. forces found Saddam Hussein hiding in a hole in al-Dwar, near Tikrit." – Jennifer Rosenberg, 20th Century History Expert

Saddam Hussein was put on trial and sentenced to death for his crimes. On December 30, 2006, Saddam Hussein was executed by hanging.

***Interesting Fact: Until 1991, Saddam Hussein was allowed to commit his atrocities with the full support of the U.S. government. 

For More: Key European Dictators from the Twentieth Century