Alexander Yakovlev, 81, a key architect of former Soviet president Mikhail S. Gorbachev's political reforms of perestroika and glasnost that shook the final years of the Soviet Union, died Oct. 18 at his home in Moscow. No cause of death was reported.

Mr. Yakovlev, who in the mid-1980s joined the Politburo, the Soviet Communist Party's ruling body, was known as the "godfather of glasnost" for spearheading Gorbachev's policy of openness that gradually lifted curbs on the press and individual speech.

That program, and perestroika, the policy of restructuring Soviet economic and political systems, were keys to Gorbachev's efforts to liberalize society and expose past crimes of the Soviet regime.

Some believe the changes set in motion the process that led to the Soviet Union's dissolution in 1991.

Mr. Yakovlev, born in the village of Korolyovo in the Volga River's Yaroslavl region, fought in the Red Army in World War II and was badly wounded in 1943. He graduated from Yaroslavl University and became a Communist Party member.

He rose through the ranks, but after a falling out with other members of the party's leadership, he was sent to Canada, where he served as Soviet ambassador from 1973 to 1983. It was there, in 1982, that he had his first meeting with Gorbachev, when the future leader was a visiting member of the Politburo.

It was an electric encounter of like-minded men, he recalled in a 1995 interview with the Associated Press.

"We were in an open field waiting for the arrival of an official," Mr. Yakovlev said. "We discussed everything, we interrupted each other and said, 'That thing must be changed and that one's intolerable. . . . Everything's intolerable.' "

After Gorbachev became Soviet leader in 1985, he quickly named Mr. Yakovlev to key party posts. In 1987, Mr. Yakovlev became a full member of the Politburo in charge of ideology.

As a senior adviser to Gorbachev, Mr. Yakovlev played a leading role in encouraging media freedom. He fended off attacks from a wing of the Communist Party that was angered by news reports exposing Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin's purges and other communist crimes.

Mr. Yakovlev initiated the exposure of a 1939 Soviet secret pact with Nazi Germany that paved the way to the Soviet annexation of the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

He also contributed to Gorbachev's reforms that gradually narrowed the Communist Party's role and encouraged the development of nascent liberal parties.

Mr. Yakovlev told the Associated Press that his efforts often brought disappointing results: "I thought it would be enough to say, 'Look people, you are free.' But intellectuals raised their heads, then started whining -- and everybody else did not give a damn."

Shortly after an attempt by a group of hard-line communists to oust Gorbachev, Mr. Yakovlev blamed the Soviet leader for bringing the plotters into his inner circle.

Gorbachev was "guilty of forming a team of traitors," he said.

The failed coup hastened the collapse of the Soviet Union. Afterward, Mr. Yakovlev became head of President Boris Yeltsin's commission for rehabilitation of victims of Soviet political repression. In that role, he remained a key figure in publicizing Soviet-era abuses.

In 2000, he attracted world attention by contending that Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg had been shot to death in Soviet secret police headquarters in 1947. Wallenberg helped save thousands of Jews in Hungary in the waning months of World War II but disappeared after Hungary was occupied by the Red Army.

Mr. Yakovlev later established the International Democracy Foundation, which he chaired until his death.

Survivors include his wife and two children.

Alexander Yakovlev was known as the "godfather of glasnost" for his work to lift curbs on speech.