JERUSALEM — Israel's storied military leader and onetime prime minister, known locally as Arik, died on Saturday at 85. Ariel Sharon had been unresponsive and in a coma since a massive stroke in 2006, but until this month had remained in a relatively stable physical state.
Sharon was often referred to as The Bulldozer, a nickname coined as much for his personal style as for the bluntness of his views. Admirers called him the King of Israel, a moniker later taken up, with heavy irony, by his detractors — before the irony was pulled from under their feet as he led Israel to abandon Gaza, losing his government and his party along the way.
Those who admired Sharon for his audacious military exploits and devil-may-care political earthiness — and those who despised him as a reckless, obstinate extremist — were alike struck by his physical vigor, cheery countenance and hearty, oversized appetites. Countless visitors, from lowly journalists to heads of state, would deliver dazed accounts of having been served an entire, newly slaughtered lamb at Sharon's farmhouse table.