Kim's daily life has been a mystery to outsiders

Unpredictable, eloquent, a film buff and a gourmand. North Korea's Kim Jong Il is infamous for ruling his impoverished country with a “military first” policy since the death of his father, but little is known about his daily life.

Western officials say Kim, who's thought to be 66, may be gravely ill.

Abroad, many consider the pudgy, bouffant-haired Kim a ruthless dictator who seeks atomic weapons while starving his people. But at home, the state-run media hail the “Dear Leader” as a prodigious general, an ace film director and the “Lodestar of the 21st Century.”

Kim's portrait hangs beside his father's in North Korean households and buildings, and his writings and philosophy, mainly praise for his father's greatness and calls for the defense of socialism, are reported and broadcast daily.

Biographical insight on Kim is sketchy. He rarely appears in public, and his voice is seldom broadcast. But defectors from North Korea describe him as an eloquent and tireless orator, primarily to military units that form the base of his support.

Kim took power in 1994 after the death of his father, Kim Il Sung, North Korea's founding ruler.

It was communism's first hereditary transfer of power, and both Kims are revered in a vast personality cult perpetrated by the country's authoritarian regime, which tolerates no dissent.

Kim Jong Il focused on the military in his “songun,” or “military first” credo — devoting much of the country's scarce resources to its troops — the world's fifth-largest military, the 1.1 million-strong People's Army.

North Korea suffered famine and poverty in the mid-1990s with as many as 2 million people thought to have died due to the loss of Soviet aid, exacerbated by natural disasters and outdated farming methods. Kim has laid the blame for North Korea's problems squarely on outside powers, and the country hurls daily propaganda tirades at the U.S. and Japan.

Kim's foodie ways are legendary but largely unconfirmed. Most of the tales come from defectors, foreign officials, journalists and chefs who got a rare peek inside the all powerful leader's bizarre world.

Konstantin Pulikovsky, a former Russian presidential envoy who accompanied the North Korean leader on a train trip through Russia, said Kim's 16-car private train was stocked with crates of French wine. Live lobsters were delivered in advance to stations, and gourmet feasts were eaten with silver chopsticks, he said.