Kukrit Pramoj, who foreshadowed events by playing a Southeast Asian premier in the 1963 Marlon Brando film “The Ugly American,” and then becoming Thailand’s prime minister in 1975, died Monday at 84.
Kukrit died of a combination of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, said officials at Samitivej Hospital in Bangkok, where he had been hospitalized for several months.
As prime minister, Kukrit helped keep democracy alive in the 1970s while Communists advanced in neighboring Indochina. He also founded a newspaper, danced in classical Thai dramas and wrote three dozen books, four of which are considered modern Thai classics.
He quit politics more than four years ago, but continued to speak publicly and was widely regarded as a Thai institution.
“Journalists love to hear the crazy things I say,” he said in a 1993 interview. “When I die, you will feel like you are missing something.”
Kukrit was educated in Thailand and England, earning an honors degree from Oxford University. He joined the Finance Ministry, then became a banker, and entered politics after World War II.
For a quarter of a century, he jabbed at successive military regimes with his sharp tongue and through the newspaper he founded.
A student-led revolution in 1973 toppled the military dictators and began a four-year experiment in democracy. Kukrit became a powerful force in the National Assembly, and founded the opposition Social Action Party.
He emerged as prime minister in March, 1975, and lasted 14 months in a tumultuous era, as Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos fell to Communist regimes after decades of war.
Kukrit re-established diplomatic ties with China and orchestrated the withdrawal of 40,000 U.S. troops who had used Thailand as a base for Indochina war operations. He also kept democracy alive at home.
He dissolved Parliament in January, 1976, in hopes of consolidating his power through an election. But Kukrit lost and the premiership went to his brother, Seni Pramoj. Months later, the military toppled the Seni government and violently suppressed a student uprising.