Lon Nol seized control of Cambodia in a 1970 coup but spent his five years in power as an ailing figure, shrinking behind his palace walls with American support as Communist forces overran his once tranquil Indochina nation and turned it into a 'killing field.'
Born Nov. 13, 1913 in Prey Veng, Cambodia, Lon Nol rose to occupy every vital post in his nation only to seek exile in Fullerton, Calif. California was his second place of refuge after initially living four years in Honolulu following his 1975 departure from Cambodia just ahead of the bloodthirsty Khmer Rouge forces of Pol Pot.
Educated at Cambodia's then Royal Military Academy, Lon Nol became a provincial governor under the French colonialists and then led a campaign against Vietnamese Communist guerrillas in World War II, eventually rising to a three-star general in 1961.
The slightly built general was named commander in chief of the Khmer Royal Armed Forces in 1960 and deputy prime minister in 1963, and served as prime minister from 1966-67 when he became first vice president in charge of national defense.
From his period as national defense minister and chief of the general staff, 1955-56, Lon Nol became a close and trusted associate of Cambodian ruler Prince Norodom Sihanouk.
But on March 18, 1970 taking advantage of Sihanouk's absence on a trip to Moscow, Lon Nol grabbed power in a coup, citing corruption in Sihanouk's family, repression and the prince's history of making accommodations with the Communists.
Just a year after the coup, Lon Nol was elevated to field marshal by the national legislature but suffered a stroke and was evacuated to a U.S. military hospital in Hawaii for treatment. For the rest of his life, he used a cane or wheelchair.
It was during the leadership of Lon Nol that the United States sent ground forces into Cambodia in the spring of 1970 to battle Viet Cong forces in a two-month incursion.
To mark his two years in power, Nol was elected president in March 1972 in an election whose legality was questioned by critics because of apparent vote tampering.
Ponderous and slow of speech, he was an enigma to many of his own countrymen and foreigners. Living in isolation at his official palace, Lon Nol rarely ventured out, relying instead on advisers from his inner circle to keep him informed. When faced with decisions, he would consult astrologers.
Many of his advisers and close military associates enriched themselves during the Indochina War, leading to charges of corruption that contributed to the marshal's final ouster.
Shortly before his downfall as the Khmer Rouge bore down on the capital of Phnom Penh, Nol told foreign visitors that he was an old man and wanted to remain and die in his homeland.
But with the Communists steadily swallowing the Cambodian countryside in a 117-day offensive that began on Jan. 1, 1975, political leaders and young generals urged Lon Nol to step down in a last effort to save the nation.
The decision had the support of the United States, which had bombed Vietnamese guerrillas hiding in Cambodia and spent more than $1 billion in military and economic aid to keep Lon Nol's government alive.
On April 1, 1975, he fled the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh a few weeks before the black pajama-clad communist Khmer Rouge marched in and launched a three-year period of terror and genocide under Pol Pot.
Western experts put the death toll at about 1.5 million -- or almost one fourth of the population. The period saw the wholesale forced evacuation of Cambodia's cities and towns -- even the abolition of currency -- in one of the most radical social experiments in history.
Lon Nol's departure was handled under a face-saving arrangement under which he did not formally resign the presidency before leaving.
The exile first went to Honolulu with his wife and nine children, and moved to southern California four years later.
Married twice, Lon Nol had no children from his first wife but three by his second wife in addition to several adopted sons and daughters.