Suarez, however, had one more dramatic moment to play.
About a month after his resignation, during a Parliamentary debate on swearing in a successor, paramilitary Civil Guard police backed by army generals nostalgic for Franco's hard-line rule stormed the ornate chamber in an attempted coup.
When some of the officers started firing submachine guns at the ceiling — the bullets have been left there as a reminder of that day — most lawmakers scrambled for cover, diving to the floor or hiding under the seats. Suarez was one of a handful of politicians who remained seated, upright and defiant. The coup bid soon collapsed.
Suarez ran for election again in 1982 and lost. He eventually formed another centrist party, but it remained marginal and he retired from politics in 1991.
In Washington, the White House extended its condolences on behalf of the American people to Suarez's family and the Spanish people.
Suarez was "instrumental in helping Spain transition to a more pluralistic society, free market economy, and parliamentary system of government," helping Spain set an example to other countries, National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said in a statement released by the White House press office,
Adolfo, one of Suarez's sons, revealed in 2005 that his father had Alzheimer's disease.
Born Sept. 25, 1932, Suarez studied law at Spain's prestigious Salamanca University and went into politics after graduating.
He held several government posts during the Franco regime.
The king granted him the title of Duke of Suarez in 1981. He was awarded Spain's highly regarded Prince of Asturias prize in 1996 for his contribution to democracy.
Suarez is survived by daughter Sonsoles, a former TV news anchor, and son Adolfo, a politician with the conservative Popular Party, and two other children.
His wife, Amparo Illana, and eldest daughter, Marian Suarez Illana, died of cancer in 2001 and 2004, respectively.