The once staunch Communist served as Mikhail Gorbachev's foreign minister before leading his native Georgia into independence after the fall of the Soviet Union.
He played an "important role in finishing the Cold War and founding a new world order," Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili observed.
As foreign minister from 1985 to 1991, Shevardnadze worked with Gorbachev to revolutionize Soviet foreign policy by withdrawing military forces from Afghanistan, Europe, and away from China's border; engaging in nuclear arms negotiations; allowing Germany to reunify; and discussing human rights issues. Shevardnadze pushed for rapprochement with the U.S. and forged relationships with Secretaries of State George Shultz and James Baker.
He became disillusioned with Communism while Soviet foreign minister, telling the New York Times magazine in 1993 that "[Gorbachev] thought he was refining socialism while I was no longer a socialist."
Shevardnadze defended his changed perspective. In 1992, he told the New York Times that as Soviet foreign minister "I made mistakes, I was sometimes unfair, but what was one supposed to do -- stick with one position to the end? To the death? We have all changed."
On December 20, 1990, Shevardnadze submitted his resignation, warning Gorbachev that "Dictatorship is coming."
For one brief month, before the dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991, Gorbachev convinced Shevardnadze to return to his foreign ministry post.
After the Soviet Union's collapse, Shevardnadze returned to guide his native Georgia, serving as the head of a governing council following a coup in 1992 and was then elected president in 1995.
Shevardnadze implemented democratic reforms and stabilized the economy In his first term as president.
His second term, however, was marred by civil unrest, economic deterioration, and corruption. The Supreme Court determined the elections he oversaw in 2002 and 2003 had been rigged, and he resigned in 2003 amid chants of "Get out! Get out! Get out!"
Shevardnadze's perspective on openness in government had changed. In a television interview following his ouster, he said "It is not good to have too much democracy... I think that was a mistake."
Shevardnadze was born in Mamati, Georgia on January 25, 1928 and joined the Communist Party in 1948. His wife, Nanuli Tsagareyshvili, whom he married in 1951, died in 2004. He is believed to be survived by his son, Pata, daughter, Monana, and four grandchildren.