For all the attention he gets, North Korea's Kim Jong Il is one of the most mysterious leaders in the world.
The reclusive communist leader has been portrayed variously as an unstable nuclear-armed madman and a cognac-swilling playboy serviced by a team of women known as the "Joy Brigade."
It is unclear where or when he was born, how many times he has been married or even exactly how many children he has. Kim is thought to have been married three times -- although it's not clear if all were official -- and he is known to have three sons and at least one daughter.
Kim is believed to have been born in the far eastern region of the Soviet Union in 1941 or 1942. But his birthplace is often listed instead as sacred Mount Paektu, the highest point on the Korean Peninsula. According to legend, the peak on the northern border with Chinese Manchuria is the site where the Korean nation came into existence 5,000 years ago. "At the time of his birth there were flashes of lightning and thunder, the iceberg in the pond on Mount Paektu emitted a mysterious sound as it broke, and bright double rainbows rose up," according to the official line.
Kim's younger brother drowned as a child and his mother died when he was 7 years old.
But despite the hardships suffered by most Koreans, Kim was presumably surrounded by luxury and privilege throughout most of his childhood.
Kim had a reputation as a hard-partying playboy as a young man -- and reportedly still has an eye for the ladies. "He recruited attractive young girls of junior high school age to take part in 'Joy Brigades,' whose function was to help in relaxation to his senior officials," said Jerrold Post, a former CIA profiler.
His taste for the high life extends to a fondness for fast cars and fine dining. One 2003 account by Russian official Konstantin Pulikovsky, who accompanied Kim on a train journey across Russia, described how live lobsters and roasted donkey -- reportedly the North Korean leader's favorite food -- were flown out to supply the train each day.
Kim is also a huge film buff boasting a collection of as many as 20,000 films.
While Kim tends to stay behind the scenes, when he does go live on television, it is carefully choreographed official visits to prestigious public works projects or large scale ceremonies, accompanied by an entourage of approving advisors.