Here is a chronology of the major events that shaped the life and career of Mikhail Gorbachev:
March 2, 1931 - Mikhail Sergeyevich is born in Privolnoye, a rural town in the Stavropol region of southern Russia.1950 - Enrolls at Moscow State University in Moscow to study law.
1952 - Becomes a full member of the Communist Party and becomes active in the Komsomol, the party's youth organization.
1954 - Marries fellow student, Raisa Maximovna Titorenko.
1955 - Returns to Stavropol and begins full-time Komsomol work.
1960 - Appointed first secretary of Stavropol regional Komsomol.
1966 - Promoted to head the party organization in the city of Stavropol and three years later is elevated to full membership in the national Communist Party Central Committee.
1971 - Becomes deputy of the nation's nominal parliament, the Supreme Soviet.
1978 - Appointed Central Committee secretary in charge of agriculture; moves to Moscow.
1979 - Named candidate, or non-voting member, of the ruling Politburo headed by President Leonid Brezhnev. Becomes a full member a year later.
March 11, 1985 - Named general secretary of the Communist Party following the death of Konstantin Chernenko.
November 1985 - Meets with President Ronald Reagan for the first time in Geneva. Over next five years, the leaders hold four summits.
1986 - Launches his reform program in earnest, using the catchwords glas-nost, meaning openness and self-criticism, and perestroika, meaning restructuring. Frees Nobel Prize-winning dissident Andrei Sakharov from exile in the city of Gorky.
1987 - Travels to Washington to meet with Reagan and signs a treaty to eliminate both sides' medium-range nuclear missiles.
1988 - Calls the first Communist Party conference since the days of Josef Stalin to press for more radical reform. In December, presides over the dissolution of the old Supreme Soviet, to be replaced by the Congress of People's Deputies and a smaller, full-time legislature, the new Supreme Soviet.
1989 - Withdraws Soviet troops from Afghanistan and presides over new parliament that elects him president.Comment on this story
1990 - Ends Communist Party's constitutional monopoly on power and moves to create a stronger presidency. Endorses moves to create a free market economy in Soviet Union. Wins Nobel Peace Prize for his role in arms treaties and ending the Cold War.
1991 - Gorbachev and leaders of several of the republics agree on a new Union Treaty to hold the country together.
August 1991 - Alexander Yakovlev, one of the architects of Gorbachev's reforms, resigns as a top aide and quits the Communist Party, warning that a coup is planned.
Aug. 19 - Vice President Gennady Yanayev and other hard-liners announce they are replacing Gorbachev as president to prevent "a national catastrophe." They declare a state of emergency.