Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a towering figure in postwar British and world politics and the only woman to become British prime minister, has died at the age of 87.
She suffered a stroke Monday, her spokeswoman said. A British government source said she died at the Ritz Hotel in London.
Thatcher's funeral will be at St. Paul's Cathedral, with full military honors, followed by a private cremation, the British prime minister's office announced.
Thatcher served from 1975 to 1990 as leader of the Conservative Party. She was called the "Iron Lady" for her personal and political toughness.
She retired from public life after a stroke in 2002 and suffered several strokes after that.
She made few public appearances in her final months, missing a reception marking her 85th birthday hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron in October 2010. She also skipped the July 2011 unveiling of a statue honoring her old friend Ronald Reagan in London.
In December 2012, she was hospitalized after a procedure to remove a growth in her bladder.
Thatcher made history
Thatcher won the nation's top job only six years after declaring in a television interview, "I don't think there will be a woman prime minister in my lifetime."
During her time at the helm of the British government, she emphasized moral absolutism, nationalism, and the rights of the individual versus those of the state -- famously declaring "There is no such thing as society" in 1987.
Nicknamed the "Iron Lady" by the Soviet press after a 1976 speech declaring that "the Russians are bent on world dominance," Thatcher later enjoyed a close working relationship with U.S. President Reagan, with whom she shared similar conservative views.
But the British cold warrior played a key role in ending the conflict by giving her stamp of approval to Soviet Communist reformer Mikhail Gorbachev shortly before he came to power.
"I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together," she declared in December 1984, three months before he became Soviet leader.
Having been right about Gorbachev, Thatcher came down on the wrong side of history after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, arguing against the reunification of East and West Germany.
Allowing the countries created in the aftermath of World War II to merge would be destabilizing to the European status quo, and East Germany was not ready to become part of Western Europe, she insisted in January 1990.
"East Germany has been under Nazism or Communism since 1930. You are not going to go overnight to democratic structures and a freer market economy," Thatcher insisted in a key interview, arguing that peace, security and stability "can only be achieved through our existing alliances negotiating with others internationally."
West German leader Helmut Kohl was furious about the interview, seeing Thatcher as a "protector of Gobachev," according to notes made that day by his close aide Horst Teltschik.
The two Germanies reunited by the end of that year.
A grocer's daughter
Thatcher -- born in October 1925 in the small eastern England market town of Grantham -- came from a modest background, taking pride in being known as a grocer's daughter. She studied chemistry at Oxford, but was involved in politics from a young age, giving her first political speech at 20, according to her official biography.
She was elected leader of the Conservative Party in 1975, when the party was in opposition.
She made history four years later, becoming prime minister when the Conservatives won the elections of 1979, the first of three election victories to which she led her party.
As British leader, Thatcher took a firm stance with the European Community -- the forerunner of the European Union -- demanding a rebate of money London contributed to Brussels.
Her positions on other issues, both domestic and foreign, were just as firm, and in one of her most famous phrases, she declared at a Conservative Party conference that she had no intention of changing her mind.
"To those waiting with bated breath for that favorite media catchphrase, the U-turn, I have only one thing to say: 'You turn if you want to. The lady's not for turning,'" she declared, to cheers from party members.