North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is dead, according to state television from Pyongyang. There are currently no independent reports confirming his death.
“Our great leader Comrade Kim Jong-il passed away at 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 17,” Korean Central TV reported.
North Korea's state-run television announced Kim died on Saturday of "physical and mental overwork," the BBC reported. The AFP said his death was from a heart attack. He reportedly died while traveling.
The world's only inherited communist ruler, Kim was reported to have been battling health issues that left him further isolated from the outside world.
US intelligence agents said they believed Kim might be "gravely ill" after having suffered from a stroke that left him unable to attend his nation's 60th anniversary celebration in 2008. The ruler's youngest son, Kim Jong Un, was reported to be the successor of his father that same year.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) instructed people to follow the next-in-line. "All party members, military men and the public should faithfully follow the leadership of comrade Kim Jong Un and protect and further strengthen the unified front of the party, military and the public," said the weeping TV announcer dressed in black funeral attire.
The news caused South Korean President Lee Myung Bak to order all government officials on emergency status, Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency reported. South Korea is still officially at war against the North, as a peace treaty was never signed to end the Korean War of 1950.
North Korea is the most militarized nation in the world, with a total of nearly 9.5 million active, reserve and paramilitary personnel. The country has also been stricken with severe famine since the 1990s, claiming millions of lives.
The news of Kim's death has reached US President Barack Obama, according to an official statement from the White House.
"We are closely monitoring reports that Kim Jong-il is dead. The President has been notified, and we are in close touch with our allies in South Korea and Japan," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in an emailed statement.
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Though the former leader's death have raised concerns and uncertainty of how the US will react politically, one thing is clear: the authoritatian leader's reign has left an indelible mark in the world.
Kim managed to establish an elaborate personality cult. The BBC described:
His image in North Korea was one of a hero in the typical manner of the dictator's cult of personality. Official North Korean accounts say he was born in a log cabin and the event was reportedly marked by a double rainbow and a bright star in the sky.
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Assuming the title of "Dear Leader," Kim Jong Il and his cult of personality was inherited by his father Kim Il Sung. The Dear Leader's father, who was called "Great Leader" by his people, founded the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
The New York Times further said of the pair's cult following in the country:
"His portrait hangs beside that of his father, Kim Il-sung, in every North Korean household and building. Towers, banners and even rock faces across the country bear slogans praising him."
Kim's unique personality also made an impression abroad. His classic bouffant hairstyle, platform shoes, and penchant for fine food and alcohol often served as writing material for late-night comedy shows and Hollywood movies.
Kim Jong Il's funeral is set for Dec. 28 in Pyongyang.