Sean Penn and other Hollywood stars are grieving the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose death at age 58 was announced on Tuesday, March 5. "I lost a friend I was blessed to have, and poor people around the world lost a champion," said Oscar winner and activist Penn, 52, in a statement.
Penn has long been a vocal supporter of the controversial leader, who had been privately battling cancer for years. The Dead Man Walking star first met Chavez in 2007 and appeared at a vigil last December as Chavez underwent surgery doctors hoped would save his life. "He's one of the most important forces we've had on this planet," Penn said at the time. He had previously praised Chavez as a "model democrat"; back in 2010, he charged that anyone calling Chavez a dictator "should be jailed."
Chavez returned the favor in a public speech, applauding Penn's "great films" and adding, "he's one of the greatest opponents of the Iraq invasion."
Other Hollywood insiders remembering Chavez include director Oliver Stone, who chronicled his rise to power in his documentary South of the Border. Calling Chavez a "hero," Stone tweeted "Hugo Chavez will live forever in history. My friend, rest finally in peace long earned." Chavez and Stone walked the red carpet together at the 2009 Venice Film Festival.
Filmmaker Michael Moore, rocker Courtney Love and actor/activist Danny Glover also met with Chavez over the years, with the Venezuelan congress giving Glover $18 million to fund a film.