Ferdinand E. Marcos, 72, who as ruler of the Philippines for more than two decades impoverished his country and came to personify corruption and greed in power, died yesterday at St. Francis Medical Center in Honolulu. Marcos, who had been in the hospital for nine months, had systemic lupus erythematosus, a degenerative kidney disorder that can spread inflammation to other vital organs. He had secretly undergone two kidney transplants. He also had heart and lung ailments, pneumonia and bacterial infections. He was an autocrat and master politician who used shrewd statecraft, personal charisma, youthful good looks, baritone oratory and -- at times -- ruthless repression to keep an iron grip on the sprawling Philippine archipelago. Yet in the end, Marcos died not a powerful figure but a pathetic one -- sickly, discredited and disgraced. Banished to a comfortable but ignominious exile in Hawaii after he was overthrown in the February 1986 "people power revolution," he left behind in the Philippines a legacy of poverty, corruption and despair. His 20-year tenure as Philippine president became synonymous with greed and excess, a tragic modern-day symbol of the corrupting influence of power. It was perhaps the final irony of a career marked by corruption and deceit that, when he was hospitalized in January, many of Marcos's opponents still did not believe that he was mortally ill. They suspected instead that he was claiming to be on his deathbed to avoid having to testify in U.S. legal proceedings aimed at recovering some of his ill-gotten wealth. In Washington, President Bush issued a statement saying that "for over 20 years, Mr. Marcos was the leader of the Philippines, a nation that has been and remains a staunch friend and ally of the United States. Mr. Marcos agreed to leave the Philippines at a critical juncture in his nation's history. His departure permitted the peaceful transition to popular, democratic rule under President {Corazon} Aquino." This was in sharp contrast to what Bush said when he visited Manila as vice president in 1981. Then he told Marcos, "We love your adherence to democratic principles and to the democratic process."Presided Over Country's Decline Marcos's decline in many ways mirrored the decay of the country he ruled. Once considered the region's economic success story, the Philippines under Marcos gradually became known as a "Sick Man of Asia," its malady directly traceable to the misrule of the strongman and his cadre of cronies. Political institutions atrophied under Marcos, the national economy fell into disrepair, and the country was left saddled with a $28 billion foreign debt. It was as paradoxical a turnaround for Marcos as it was for the Philippines. He came to power as a tough anti-communist crusader, yet his reign saw a communist insurgency grow from a manageable handful of rebels in 1969 to an armed force of more than 20,000 fighters by the end of his rule. He was first elected president as a reformer who would clean up the Philippines' endemic corruption but presided over the systematic looting of his country's treasury. He built his political reputation as a shrewd tactician who could accurately assess the pulse of the common people, yet he badly underestimated the erosion of his support and miscalculated the strength of the popular movement that ultimately toppled him. With his wife, Imelda, Marcos staged often bizarre and laughable palace exploits that at once entertained and embarrassed a generation of Filipinos. There were the palace discos, with Imelda showing up in battery-powered shoes with flashing fluorescent heels. There was the youthful president's 1960s affair with American movie actress Dovie Beams. And there was the episode in 1981 in which Marcos is believed to have ordered his own son-in-law kidnapped to keep Imelda from taking more radical action after the young man -- recently divorced -- eloped with the Marcoses' eldest daughter, Imee. Divorce is not recognized in the Philippines. By the end of his rule it was clear that Marcos had lied about everything from his health to his personal fortune, from his World War II record -- he claimed to be a guerrilla hero -- to his golf game. Documents unearthed in U.S. archives and made public in January 1986 indicate that Marcos actually worked on behalf of Philippine politicians who collaborated with the Japanese and that his father was hanged as a collaborator during the war by Philippine guerrillas. Ferdinand Edralin Marcos was born on Sept. 11, 1917, in the Philippines' hard-scrabble north, in Sarrat, Ilocos Norte Province. His father, Mariano R. Marcos, was an educator, lawyer and politician, and his mother, Josefa Edralin, a schoolteacher. When Mariano Marcos was elected to the Philippine Congress in 1925, he moved his family to Manila. In 1934, Marcos -- already recognized as a brilliant high school student and a vaunted orator who spoke at least three languages -- entered the University of the Philippines, where he studied law. On Dec. 7, 1938, attending an evening law class, Marcos was arrested and charged with murder in the 1935 slaying of Julio Nalundasan, a politician who had defeated Marcos's father in an election. In November 1939, Marcos was convicted. But a year later, the Supreme Court reversed the conviction after Marcos made an impassioned plea that solidified his reputation as the country's most gifted orator. After American forces liberated the Philippines from Japan in 1945 and granted independence to the islands the next year, Marcos turned to politics. During his first, successful run for Congress in 1949, for a seat from his native Ilocos region, he promised his constituents "an Ilocano president in 20 years." He managed to fulfill that boast even sooner than he expected.Marriage to Imelda But first came marriage, in 1954, to former beauty queen Imelda Romualdez of Tacloban. It was a union born of love at first sight, Marcos said, but it was also politically advantageous. The marriage gave Marcos a firm political base in the important Leyte region and, in his beautiful bride, a crowd-pleaser who would dominate his campaign rallies for the next three decades. The couple eventually had three children: Imee, Ferdinand Jr. (known as "Bongbong") and Irene. When they reached their twenties, the children joined Imelda in being appointed to a variety of posts in what critics said was an attempt to establish a family dynasty. Ferdinand Jr. and Imee at one point served as elected governor and legislator, respectively, from Ilocos Norte. In 1959, Marcos won a Senate seat with the largest plurality ever. In April 1963, he became Senate president. He tried and failed to win the Liberal Party's nomination for vice president in 1957 and for president in 1964, defeated each time by Diosdado Macapagal. But in November 1964, increasingly frustrated by his party's repeatedly passing over him, Marcos switched his allegiance to the rival Nacionalista Party and won its nomination to run for president. Marcos and Macapagal waged a costly, bitter and highly personal campaign in which each candidate spent a record $8 million. Marcos won and was sworn in on Dec. 30, 1965. In assuming office, the 48-year-old president was viewed as a reformer and, most important for American officials, as a supporter of the growing U.S. war effort in Vietnam. But while Marcos's anti-communist rhetoric sounded tough, Johnson administration officials soon realized that his support for the Vietnam War was not without a price -- hefty increases in American military support and other aid to the former U.S. possession. In November 1969, Marcos became the first Philippine president ever to win a second four-year term, defeating Sen. Sergio Osmena after a nasty election marred by allegations of fraud, violence and vote-buying by Marcos's Nacionalista Party. But the victorious Marcos that year also was confronted with a growing list of domestic problems. On Sept. 21, 1972, a year before his term was to expire, he declared martial law. The event he used to justify his declaration was an attack on his defense minister, Juan Ponce Enrile, who had allegedly escaped injury after being ambushed in his car. Years later, Enrile -- who ultimately led the revolt that deposed Marcos -- admitted that the ambush was faked.Stifling the Opposition Marcos used martial law to suspend the constitution, under which he would have been barred from reelection. Among the critics he jailed was a dynamic young senator, Benigno S. "Ninoy" Aquino, who had emerged as a youthful rival to Marcos in oratorical skills and political ambition. The imposition of martial law was greeted by Washington as a necessary step to stop the Philippines from slipping into anarchy. But the move also proved to be the most useful recruiting tool possible for the then-fledgling Communist Party of the Philippines, and its armed wing, the New People's Army. Many recruits, including university students, fled to the hills to fight Marcos's martial law government. Despite his misrule, Marcos succeeded during this period in putting down a Moslem separatist movement that aimed to create an independent state out of the country's southern islands. With his opponents crushed, Marcos lifted martial law in January 1981, but only after setting up the legal mechanisms that allowed him to rule by executive decree and maintain power indefinitely. This earned him the accolades of the new Reagan administration, and Bush visited Manila and toasted Marcos. The turning point for Marcos came in August 1983, when Benigno Aquino -- who was then living in exile in Boston after being released from jail to seek medical treatment -- decided to return home. Aquino had received word that Marcos was ill, and he said he wanted to talk to the strongman about a smooth transition of power. Upon his arrival at Manila International Airport, Aquino was shot to death. Marcos attributed the murder to an alleged communist hit man, Rolando Galman, who was gunned down at the scene by security men. But it was obvious to Filipinos that Galman had been clumsily framed and that Aquino had been assassinated by Marcos's military.Turmoil and Revolt The image of Aquino's body sprawled on the tarmac became an emotional symbol for the anti-Marcos opposition. The country was seized in a swiftly spiraling economic and political crisis. The Philippine middle classes and the business community experienced a political awakening, expressing their outrage at Aquino's murder in street demonstrations and bold calls for Marcos to step down. The powerful Roman Catholic Church also became vocal in its criticisms of the regime. The Reagan administration eventually suspended some military aid. Marcos, increasingly isolated in his palace, thought he could rely once more on his shrewd political instincts. In late 1985, under pressure from the Reagan administration, he took the nation by surprise when he announced on American television that he would test his popularity in a "snap" presidential election to be held Feb. 7, 1986. It was regarded as a deft master stroke that might once again save one of the world's craftiest political operators. However, Marcos had misjudged the depth of the erosion of his own support after the Aquino assassination. He also misjudged the appeal of Aquino's diminutive 53-year-old widow, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, who succeeded in uniting the opposition behind her presidential candidacy. The February 1986 election was marred by a degree of fraud -- from registration to counting -- that reached new depths even by Philippine standards. While Marcos declared himself the winner, most Filipinos condemned the results as spurious. Aquino led her supporters in a campaign of civil disobedience. But in the end it was a mutiny in the military on Feb. 22, 1986, spearheaded by Defense Minister Enrile, that cost Marcos his power. It was triggered when Marcos began rounding up officers he said were plotting against him. The story was true, but huge crowds rallied to support of the rebel soldiers. Cardinal Jaime Sin called on Philippine Catholics to go into the streets in a huge display of "people power." Ordinary citizens prevented tanks and troops loyal to Marcos from attacking the mutineers. U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.) delivered the ultimatum to the man who had enjoyed the support of five American presidents. In a telephone call to Marcos, Laxalt told him of Reagan's agonizing decision about his longtime friend: The time had come to "cut and cut clean." Shortly before mobs stormed his Malacanang presidential palace on Feb. 25, Marcos and his family left aboard U.S. helicopters for Clark Air Base, where they boarded a U.S. hospital plane the next morning for Hawaii. Marcos arrived there a broken man, a shuffling, small figure in a windbreaker and a rumpled golf hat. Even from his Hawaiian exile, Marcos tried to destabilize the new government, funding loyalists in the Philippines and plotting his own eventual return. His involvement in one attempt at a dramatic comeback finally persuaded federal prosecutors in New York to indict the Marcoses last October on charges of embezzling more than $100 million from the Philippine treasury and converting the ill-gotten wealth into U.S. dollars to buy four New York office buildings. In an interview with Playboy magazine in 1987, Marcos was asked how he wanted young people to remember him in the Philippines. He replied, "They knew Marcos as a guy who could crack jokes, who could demystify the complicated philosophy of life. He could quote Rousseau and explain it -- which no one had ever done."