The son of an agricultural mechanic in the North Caucasus, Mikhail Gorbachev wasn't exactly tapped for greatness at birth. Eighty years later, though, he stands out as one of the giants of 20th-century history for his role in engineering the end of the Cold War. Elected as the youngest full member of the Politburo in 1980, he took over the Communist Party's top office in 1985 and proceeded to introduce the first steps of liberalization to the world's most powerful communist country, through his programs of glasnost and perestroika. Meanwhile, he built strong relationships with Western leaders such as U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Although his reign ended in 1991 with the demise of the Soviet Union, he has remained active in public life as a politician, commentator, and celebrity.
Here, Gorbachev looks up on an official visit to London in 1984.