Nguyen Cao Ky, who served as Chief of the Vietnam Air Force in the 1960s before leading the nation as premier of South Vietnam in mid-1960s, died of respiratory complication Saturday in Malaysia at the age of 80, his nephew Peter Phan told AP.
"He was in good health, but in the last couple of weeks he had been weak," Peter Phan was quoted by the news agency as saying.
Ky served as premier of US-backed South Vietnam from 1965 to 1967. He had been commander of South Vietnam's air force in 1965 when the US involvement in the Vietnam war escalated.
From 1967 to 1971, he was vice president under Gen. Nguyen Van Thieu.
When Thieu's government in Saigon collapsed in 1975, Ky and his family fled Vietnam to the US, where he led a quiet life away from politics.
His controversial visit back to his homeland in 2004 after 29 years in exile made him a media magnet.
"What I'm trying to do now is help my country. I only have a duty to my country," Ky told AP when he visited Hanoi. "I have my record. No one can say I'm not patriotic."
"While I served as prime minister, I gave no American cause to suppose that I was their puppet," Ky wrote in his 2002 book "Buddha's Child: My Fight to Save Vietnam."
Ky, who married three times, has six children and 14 grandchildren. He had five children by his first wife, a French woman and had a daughter, Nguyen Cao Ky Duyen, with the second wife, a Vietnamese woman. Duyen is a renowned MC in the Vietnamese community in the US.
Ky was born in Son Tay province, a town west of Hanoi back then, in 1930.