"Today the people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had," Penn said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. "And poor people around the world lost a champion. I lost a friend I was blessed to have. My thoughts are with the family of President Chavez and the people of Venezuela."
Chavez, 58, died Tuesday after a battle with an undisclosed type of pelvic cancer, ABC News reports. Although he was a polarizing leader who befriended some of the world's dictators, he remained popular in his country as a champion of the poor. Always outspoken, Chavez criticized oil companies and the Catholic Church. He also often criticized the United States' treatment of Latin America and at different times called President George W. Bush a "liar," a "murderer" and, during a 2006 speech before the UN General Assembly, "the devil."
A longtime supporter of the late president, Penn first met Chavez in Venezuela in 2007. Penn joined Chavez at an election rally in August 2012 and attended a candlelight vigil for Chavez in Bolivia in December. "He's one of the most important forces we've had on this planet, and I'll wish him nothing but that great strength he has shown over and over again," Penn said at the vigil. "I do it in love, and I do it in gratitude."