Jacques Chirac, longtime French politician and former president, dies at 86

Former French President Jacques Chirac, a fixture in French politics for five decades, died in Paris Thursday. He was 86.

U.S. President Reagan meets with French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac at the White House on March 31, 1987. File Photo by Doug Mills

Chirac has had multiple health problems since his final presidential term ended in 2007. He’d served as mayor of Paris for 18 years, two terms as French prime minister and two terms as president.

The long-time French politician gained international prominence with his staunch opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. At the time, U.S. President George W. Bush was assembling a “coalition of the willing” to invade Iraq, where U.S. intelligence believed dictator Saddam Hussein was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. Chirac threatened to veto a U.N. resolution and called for Hussein to be removed from power.

Chirac joined then-German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin in opposing the invasion, and his opposition stoked tensions between Washington and Paris that lasted for years.

Chirac was the first foreign leader to visit the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He traveled to Ground Zero and met with New York City firefighters. He also sent French troops to assist in the war in Afghanistan.

Chirac often told stories about hitchhiking across the United States and working as a soda jerk in Massachusetts, a forklift driver in St. Louis and a journalist in New Orleans.

The tall, flamboyant career politician was also known for his theatrical gestures and making over-the-top facial expressions.

Chirac earned many nicknames, including “bulldozer,” “Chameleon Bonaparte” and “Girouette,” or weather vane, for his propensity to switch sides on an issue.

In December 2011, he was found guilty of embezzlement and given a two-year suspended sentence.

ByNicholas Sakelaris