FULLERTON, Calif. -- Lon Nol, who led the coup against Cambodian Prince Norodom Sihanouk in 1971 and headed his homeland until it fell to Communist rebels four years later, died Sunday of an apparent heart attack. He was 72.
Paramedics were called to Lon Nol's suburban home about 4:30 a.m. PST on his complaint of chest pains, and he was pronounced dead at St. Jude Hospital at 9:51 a.m.
After the fall of his government in Cambodia, Lon Nol fled to Honolulu with his family, and moved to Southern California four years later.
He later expressed bitterness at being forced into exile, insisting that he was still the legitimate leader of the Cambodians. He also fought rumors that he had fled his homeland with suitcases filled with gold.
Lon Nol was in poor health for years, suffering the effects of a 1971 stroke that often forced him to use a wheelchair or walk with a cane.
A fire spokesman said paramedics had been called to Lon Nol's home several times because of his 'ongoing heart problem,' and his son Rithy, 20, said he had been 'limited in what he could do' by ill health.
Lon Nol is also survived by his wife, Sovanna, by four other sons and four daughters, and by six grandchildren. Funeral services were scheduled for noon Saturday at a local mortuary, with public visitation planned for Thursday and Friday.
Lon Nol, born Nov. 13, 1913, was Cambodian minister of national defense and chief of the general staff from 1955-66. He was named commander in chief of the Khmer Royal Armed Forces in 1960 and deputy prime minister in 1963.
He served as prime minister from 1966-67, when he become first vice president in charge of national defense.
He served again as prime minister, and as minister of national defense, from 1969-71, when he led the coup that overthrew Sihanouk while the prince was visiting Peking and Moscow.
Lon Nol in 1972 was named president of the Khmer Republic, a position he held until 1975. He was also supreme commander of the Khmer Armed Forces from 1972-74.
It was under his leadership that the United States sent ground forces into Cambodia in the spring of 1970 to battle Viet Cong forces in what President Richard Nixon called an 'incursion.'
Lon Nol went into exile in April 1975 as Communist rebels bore down on the capital of Phnom Penh. He was succeeded briefly by Lon Boret.
He later expressed bitterness over his exile, telling reporters in1979, 'The fact is that I am president of the Khmer Republic.'
bodia) government came to power in 1976 under Pol Pot, and carried out mass killings in the next four years. Western experts put the death toll at about 1.5 million, or almost one-fourth of the population. Other claims put the toll at nearly 2.75 million.
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.
In a 1977 interview with United Press International, Lon Nol said he was mystified by the motives of the Khmer Rouge.
'Why are they killing or causing the deaths of their own people - not hundreds, not thousands, not hundreds of thousands, but several millions?' he asked.
'What are their goals? What goal can be worth the misery, the suffering, the killing the Communists are inflicting on their own people today?'
A Vietnamese invasion, backed by the Soviet Union, drove Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge from Phnom Penh in January 1979, although a guerrilla resistance force remained concentrated along the country's border with Thailand.
After the Vietnamese invasion, Lon Nol urged the United Nations to have a U.N.committee oversee the rebel government and establish international troops as a peacekeeping force.
He also asked President Carter to help restore human rights in Cambodia, suggesting that arms be smuggled into the nation and that an outside force, like the Cubans in Africa, be used to boost an internal uprising.
When Lon Nol fled to the United States in 1975, a minister who accompanied him said he had been paid $200,000 just before his nation was overrun. Government officials said he was paid $1 million to leave the country, however, and there were rumors he had fled with suitcases full of gold.
Noting that he traveled for 11 days through Thailand, Bali and Guam before reaching Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, Lon Nol once asked, 'Where can I hide tons of gold during these many transfers of luggage?'
In Hawaii, Lon Nol bought two homes in Oahu and in a 1977 interview said he was trying to improve his English by watching television and listening to his children talk. During the interview his little daughter jumped into his lap holding a book titled, 'Let's Learn English.'
When Lon Nol moved to Southern California he purchased a home for $190,000 in Fullerton, a suburb about 25 miles southeast of Los Angeles, and said he was seeking better business and education opportunities for his wife and children.
In March 1979 he told a reporter that he and other refugees from Southeast Asia found it hard to adapt to the American way of life.
'I could live here for 100 more years and never fully adjust,' he said.
In 1981, Lon Nol's wife and 18-year-old son were arrested for allegedly inflicting cruel physical punishment on four of the family's younger children. They pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of child endangering, and were fined and placed on probation.