Tariq Aziz, who during his years as Iraq's foreign minister and deputy prime minister was one of Saddam Hussein's close advisers, has died at the age of 79, the BBC reports. Iraqi officials say Aziz suffered a heart attack yesterday at the Iraqi prison where he had been jailed, and he died earlier today, per al-Jazeera. The AP notes he died in a hospital in southern Iraq. The highest-ranked Christian in Hussein's regime surrendered to US troops in 2003 and was sentenced to death in 2010 by the Iraqi Supreme Court for religious persecution; he had been imprisoned since then.
With his large glasses and what the BBC calls a "passing resemblance to Groucho Marx," Aziz was a recognizable face around the world during the Gulf War in the early '90s and the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. His status as a Christian may have played a role in saving his life: After his death sentence was handed down, the Vatican asked for mercy for him, and Iraq's then-president opted not to sign the paperwork to greenlight his hanging, the AP notes. But Aziz appeared to realize he would die behind bars: He had multiple strokes while imprisoned, per the news agency, and spoke with difficulty during a 2010 jailhouse interview with the AP. "I have no future. I have no future," he said at the time. "I'm sick and tired, but I wish Iraq and Iraqis well."