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Although he continued to be regarded a moral voice as he decried the shortcomings of his society under democracy, he eventually bent to the dictates of convention and power. His watchwords — “what the heart thinks, the tongue speaks” — had to be modified for day-to-day politics.

And post-revolutionary life contained many challenges.

In July 1992, it became clear that the Czechoslovak federation was heading for a split. Considering it a personal failure, Mr. Havel resigned as president.

But he remained popular and was elected president of the new Czech Republic uncontested.

He was small, but his presence and wit could fill a room. Even late in life, he retained a certain impishness and boyish grin, shifting easily from philosophy to jokes or plain old Prague gossip.

In December 1996, just 11 months after his first wife, Olga Havlova, died of cancer, he lost a third of his right lung during surgery to remove a half-inch malignant tumor.

He gave up smoking and married Dagmar Veskrnova, a dashing actress almost 20 years his junior.

Holding a post of immense prestige but little power, Mr. Havel’s image suffered in the latter years as his people discovered the difficulties of transforming their society in the post-communist era.

His attempts to reconcile rival politicians were considered by many as unconstitutional intrusions, and his pleas for political leaders to build a “civic society” based on respect, tolerance and individual responsibility went largely unanswered.

Media criticism, once unthinkable, became unrelenting. Serious newspapers questioned his political visions; tabloids focused mainly on his private life and his flashy second wife.

Mr. Havel himself acknowledged that his handling of domestic issues never matched his flair for foreign affairs. But when the Czech Republic joined NATO in March 1999 and the European Union in May 2004, his dreams came true.

“I can’t stop rejoicing that I live in this time and can participate in it,” Mr. Havel exulted.

Early in 2008, Mr. Havel returned to his first love: the stage. He published a new play, “Leaving,” about the struggles of a leader on his way out of office, and the work gained critical acclaim.

Theater, he told the AP, was once again his major interest.

“My return to the stage was not easy,” he said. “It’s not a common thing for someone to be involved in theater, become a president, and then go back.”