AFP - Lech Kaczynski, the Polish president killed in a plane crash Saturday, was a child star who went on to form a formidable political double act with his identical twin Jaroslaw.
The Kaczynskis' right-wing dramatics -- obstinate, nationalist and often paranoid -- shocked many in Poland and the rest of Europe, but caught a populist wave that propelled them to power.
Kaczynski in 2005 became the nation's third democratically elected president since the fall of communism in 1989, following in the footsteps of the legendary Lech Walesa and Aleksander Kwasniewski.
He had been expected to stand for re-election in a presidential poll due later this year.
Born in Warsaw in 1949, Lech and his elder twin by 45 minutes were inseparable as children. The two played the title roles in a film, "The Little Hoodlums Who Tried to Steal the Moon", when they were 12.
They both studied law at the University of Warsaw, were together in the anti-communist opposition and also when the Solidarity trade union was born. Both were close to Solidarity founder Walesa in the 1980s.
Once communism was toppled in Poland in 1989, each was elected senator in the country's first free elections after World War II.
In 2001, the Kaczynskis founded the conservative Catholic Law and Justice (PiS) party, which Jaroslaw leads as Poland's parliamentary opposition having previously served as his brother's prime minister.
"My brother has always pushed me to the fore. He prefers staying behind the front line, from where he can lead our political party," Lech once told AFP in an interview.
Although even close co-workers were known to have difficulty telling them apart, Lech insisted he and Jaroslaw were "not totally identical."
Lech was married to Maria, who also perished in Saturday's crash in western Russia. The couple had one daughter, Marta, born in 1980.
Lech had distinctive moles on his face and for a while had a moustache, making it easier to tell him apart from his twin, who has always been clean-shaven.
"In political terms, we share the same opinions, the same patriotism as our parents, who fought in the resistance in World War II," Lech has said.
He also highlighted one of the political advantages of having a twin. "You always have a colleague or boss you can count on.
He has based his campaigns, both to become Warsaw mayor in 2002 and the nation's president in 2005, on his record of fighting corruption.
He favoured strong ties with the United States and was an enthusiastic supporter of Washington's plans for a missile defence system on Polish soil, a project vehemently opposed by Russia.
Kaczynski had vowed to protect Poland's best interests while favouring reconciliation with historic foes and neighbours Germany and Russia.
"I want good relations with Moscow but Russia has to recognise that Poland is no longer in its sphere of influence," he has said.
As mayor of Warsaw, Kaczynski commissioned a report into the destruction wrought by Nazi Germany on the Polish capital during World War II, as a rebuttal to a demand for compensation from ethnic Germans expelled from Poland during the war.
The report put a price tag of 45.3 billion dollars (around 33.6 billion euros) on the damage done to Warsaw, which the Germans reduced almost entirely to rubble when they realised they were losing the war.