A Sept. 29 obituary on former Canadian prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau incorrectly reported the age of his youngest son, Michel, at the time of his death. He was 23. In some editions, the article incorrectly reported when Mr. Trudeau regained a majority government; it was 1974. (Published 09/30/2000)
Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who as prime minister of Canada captivated first his nation and then much of the world with his intellectual charm, sophisticated wit and a stylish political ability never seen before in Ottawa, died today at his home in Montreal. He was 80 and had prostate cancer and Parkinson's disease.
Mr. Trudeau was elected to the House of Commons in 1965. He was minister of justice before serving as prime minister from 1968 to 1979, and again from 1980 to 1984, winning four out of five elections in which he led the Liberal Party.
Canadian and U.S. publications greeted his arrival in national office with the news that "Trudeaumania" had swept him to power. The electorate, and the media, were much taken with the bilingual, charismatic intellectual who had shot to the top of Canadian politics.
Once criticized for wearing an ascot to the Commons, he dazzled the world with his combination of continental suits and casual attire. The world followed the eligible bachelor's social life--he once invited Barbra Streisand to the Commons to see him at work. At the age of 51, he married the beautiful and rich Margaret Sinclair--who came to be regarded as first flower child as a premier's wife.
And through all the excitement, Mr. Trudeau fought a series of battles over economics, justice, the relations of Canada to both Britain and the United States, and federal Canada's relationship with the provinces. He seemed to thrive on conflict--always happiest when fighting nearly alone--and, as a master of the sound bite, was adept at taking his case directly to the people.
He gained the admiration not only of his own people, but also from many in the United States. Young Americans, who had become alienated by their own politics and politicians who seemed sorely old and ignorant, were fascinated by this Anglo-Gallic lion of the north who seemed to speak their language, to appreciate their style and culture, and, above all, to inspire them.
"Pierre Trudeau, the embodiment of the dream of a just society, has left us," Prime Minister Jean Chretien said in a statement tonight. "He is gone, but his unfinished work remains--our country, Canada."
Mr. Trudeau reached the national scene "like a stone through a stained-glass window," wrote author Gordon Donaldson.
He was the right man at the right time for Canada, historians say. He arrived like a breath of fresh air, the year after Canada's centennial, in an era of free love and protests. At a time when more than 50 percent of Canada's population was younger than 30, he appealed to both the old and the young.
Mr. Trudeau was born in Montreal on Oct. 18, 1919, the middle child of wealthy French-Canadian businessman Charles-Emile Trudeau and his French and Scottish mother, Grace Elliott. As a child, he was driven to school in a limousine.
He was a 1944 honors graduate in law of the University of Montreal. Over the next five years, he traveled and studied abroad, receiving a master's degree in law from Harvard University and attending the Ecole des Science Politiques in Paris and the London School of Economics. He then spent two years traveling in Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. He returned to Canada in 1949 and became active in politics and journalism.
He held a variety of jobs, including those of economic policy adviser to the Privy Council and legal consultant to labor unions. In the early 1950s, he helped found the influential Cite Libre magazine, and from 1959 until 1965, he taught constitutional law at the University of Montreal.
Mr. Trudeau, who had a meteoric rise in politics, joined the Liberal Party and won election to Parliament from Montreal in 1965. He arrived in Ottawa as one of Quebec's "three wise men" and became parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. Two years later, he became the federal minister of justice, well placed to assume the party leadership in 1968. As justice minister, his public profile grew as he liberalized Canada's laws on abortion, homosexuality and divorce. In the national election, campaigning for "one Canada," he defeated Conservative leader Robert Stansfield, a Nova Scotia businessman who had called for giving "particular status" to Quebec.
Asked in an interview how badly he wanted to be prime minister, he replied: "Not very badly. But I can give you another quotation, from Plato--that men who want very badly to head the country shouldn't be trusted."
He became prime minister in April 1968, succeeding Pearson.
"Trudeau turned the country into spectacle itself, the glamorous movie it had only ever dreamed of becoming, with Pierre Elliott Trudeau both its director and its star," wrote Geoff Pevere and Greig Dymond in the book "Mondo Canuck: A Canadian Pop Culture Odyssey."
He danced the bump and the boogaloo and kissed swooning women. Teenagers followed him, kissing autographed photos of their prime minister. Someone asked him about the future of the Liberal Party. He said, "An exciting political party should have both blondes and brunettes."
He told a crowd of screaming fans in Winnipeg: "I do not feel myself bound by any doctrine or rigid approaches. I am a pragmatist."
His wife, Margaret, was a "hippie princess" who loved to go barefoot and defined culture as "rock music." They had three sons, Justin, Sacha and Michel. But the marriage began to fall apart in public. The couple separated in 1977 and divorced in 1984. Pierre Trudeau retained custody of the children.
Michel Trudeau was killed in an avalanche in British Columbia in 1998 at age 33. Friends said that Mr. Trudeau never fully recovered from the shock.
Mr. Trudeau was named as father on the birth certificate of a girl, Sara Elisabeth, born to constitutional expert Deborah Coyne in 1991.
In 1969, Mr. Trudeau became the first foreign leader to visit President Richard Nixon. On the second day of the summit, during a speech at the National Press Club, Mr.Trudeau gave an analogy of U.S.-Canadian relations that is still remembered:
"Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt."
One of Mr. Trudeau's first actions was to make Canada officially bilingual in English and French. He gave Canada its landmark Charter of Rights and Freedoms and brought the country's constitution back from Britain in 1982. In working to make sure that Quebec remained part of Canada, he said the province's threats of separation "reeked of blackmail. . . If Quebec separates, let it separate; I'll not hang myself in a loft. But I think it's the wrong choice."
Mr. Trudeau's vigorous efforts are credited with the decisive defeat of a 1980 referendum on a form of secession for Quebec.
The sense of political magic lasted for Mr. Trudeau until Oct. 5, 1970, when radical Quebec separatists kidnapped a British diplomat and killed a provincial cabinet minister they had taken captive. Mr. Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act, sending troops onto the streets of Montreal, arresting people without charge and curbing civil liberties.
"I think the society must take every means at its disposal to defend itself against the emergence of a parallel power which defies the elected power in this country, and I think that goes to any distance. . . . It's only . . . weak-kneed bleeding hearts who are afraid to take these measures," Mr. Trudeau declared.
A reporter asked Mr. Trudeau how far he would go against the kidnappers.
He replied, "Just watch me."
Most Canadians supported his actions against the kidnappers, but others became offended by what they saw as arrogance. By the early 1970s, the country had slipped out of Trudeaumania, and a national magazine was saying: "The Prime Minister gives the impression of believing that he and his inner court of advisors . . . have a monopoly on truth. . . . Trudeau [needs] to become less of a philosopher-king and more of a compassionate human."
Despite his 15 years and five months as prime minister, Mr. Trudeau never won consecutive majorities. In 1972, he was forced to form a minority government; in 1984, the Liberals regained a majority after a campaign against wage and price controls. But after the election, Mr. Trudeau imposed both. Economic troubles were compounded by the prime minister's domestic situation as his marriage crumbled.
In 1979, after 16 years in office, Mr. Trudeau lost to Joe Clark and the Tories. Mr. Trudeau did not take to his role as opposition leader, and he announced his retirement. But he quickly changed his mind and was elected again in 1980 as Canadians turned against tax increases and other unpopular budget proposals of the Clark government. In his final years in office, he pressed a controversial national energy program that imposed domestic oil price controls and antagonized the oil-rich western part of the country.
On a cold day in 1984, Mr. Trudeau took a solitary walk in a snowstorm, and when he returned he had decided that he would resign. "It seemed like a good day to have a last day," he said on Feb. 29.
After retiring, Mr. Trudeau lived a quiet life out of the spotlight, often walking to work at his downtown office in Montreal.