Former Slovenian President Janez Drnovsek, a popular politician who helped lead the country to independence from Yugoslavia, died Saturday, his office said. He was 57.
Drnovsek, who battled cancer for years, became a political icon in part for working to keep violence at a minimum when Slovenia gained independence in 1991. He later led the country to European Union and NATO membership.
In recent years, Drnovsek made a radical shift to a holistic lifestyle and wrote several New Age-influenced books.
Mild-mannered but resolute, Drnovsek served as prime minister from 1992 to 2002, after which he became president. He did not run for a second term in elections late last year and was replaced by Danilo Turk in December.
His office gave no specific cause of his death.
Drnovsek had a cancerous kidney removed in 1999. In 2005, he acknowledged that doctors had diagnosed what he described as "formations" — apparently cancer — on his lungs and liver in 2001, a year before he was elected president.
Nevertheless, he generally carried out his duties without disruptions.
He said he realized in 2005 that doctors could not cure him. Instead, he insisted that he had cured himself simply by changing his diet, his lifestyle and his way of thinking.
After many years as a straight-laced and stodgy politician, Drnovsek turned into a New Age guru.
"It is hard for me to say if the change was only caused by the illness," Drnovsek told The Associated Press in an interview last year. "It is true that the illness acts as a shock — it awakens one."