‘One of my heroes’: Arnold Schwarzenegger joins politicians and historians in paying tribute to Gorbachev

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Actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger joined legions of world leaders in paying tribute to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who was reported dead on Tuesday at age 91.

“There’s an old saying, ‘Never meet your heroes,’” the Terminator star wrote on Twitter, posting a photo of himself with Gorbachev. “I think that’s some of the worst advice I’ve ever heard.”

“Mikhail Gorbachev was one of my heroes, and it was an honor and a joy to meet him,” Mr Schwarzenegger added. “I was unbelievably lucky to call him a friend. All of us can learn from his fantastic life.”

The two knew each other for “a long time,” according to the Gorbachev Foundation, and the Austrian-born Mr Schwarzenegger once visited the former leader in Moscow.

Numerous admirers around the world praised the Russian leader for helping to preside over the end of the Cold War, working out nuclear arms agreements with the US, and restructuring Soviet society through glasnost and perestroika.

Former US Secretary of State James A Baker III, who dealt regularly with Gorbachev for years on issues like the Berlin Wall and Nato, called the former Soviet leader a “giant.”

“History will remember Mikhail Gorbachev as a giant who steered his great nation towards democracy..." Mr Baker said, Reuters reports.

"He played the critical role in a peaceful conclusion of the Cold War by his decision against using force to hold the empire together,” the US official added. “I found him to be an honest broker and could count on his word despite domestic pressure in Moscow. The free world misses him greatly.”

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, called Gorbachev “a trusted and respected leader.”

“He played a crucial role to end the Cold War and bring down the Iron Curtain,” she wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “It opened the way for a free Europe. This legacy is one we will not forget.”

UK prime minister Boris Johnson said Gorbachev had “courage and integrity,” and praised him as an example during current tensions between Russia and Europe over the invasion of Ukraine.

“In a time of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, his tireless commitment to opening up Soviet society remains an example to us all,” Mr Johnson wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

Gorbachev died on Tuesday from “after a serious and long illness,” the Central Clinical Hospital in Moscow said, quoted by Russian news agencies.