Veteran opposition politican J. B. Jeyaretnam, died early on Tuesday just days before a constitutional challenge he hoped would propel him back into parliament, his family said.
Mr Jeyaretnam, 82, died at about 1.30am from a heart attack at his son's home in Singapore, a relative told the AFP from the family home in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.
Earlier, he had complained of breathing difficulty.
He was rushed to Tan Tock Seng Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Mr Jeyaretnam, a lawyer, recently formed the Reform Party to challenge the more than 40-year rule of the People's Action Party, which was founded by former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
One of the rare few to speak out against the Government, he made political history in 1981 when he became the first opposition politician elected to parliament.
He was unable to contest the 2006 general election after he was made bankrupt in 2001 for failing to pay S$265,000 in defamation damages to then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. He was discharged from bankruptcy in May last year.
Mr Jeyaretnam was to appear in the High Court on Oct 15 to seek an order that a by-election be held for a seat that is currently vacant.
Ms G. K. Pamela, another of Jeyaretnam's relatives, said the court challenge was related to Jeyaretnam's desire to enter parliament again.
'That was his wish,' she told AFP in tears.
'Such a good man. Why did God take him?'
Singapore Democratic Party activist Chee Siok Chin said she was shocked at the veteran opposition figure's death.
'There's no doubt about it. Mr Jeyaretnam has been the icon of the opposition here and it's a great loss,' she said.
Mr Jeyaretnam made his final political comeback earlier this year to form the new opposition party.
He left the Workers' Party (WP) after years at its helm and was succeeded by Mr Low Thia Khiang, who is now MP for Hougang.
When he broke the PAP's 15-year monopoly of the Parliament in 1981, most of today's young Singaporeans were not even born yet.
After losing his parliamentary seat in 1986 for making a false declaration of the WP accounts, he spent a month in jail and was fined S$5,000. Mr Jeyaretnam spent most of the last two decades battling outside the legislature.
Of the five General Elections since then, he has contested only once, in 1997.He finished as top loser through the bruising Cheng San GRC bout, earning a 45.2 per cent of the valid votes.
That brought him back into the House as a Non-Constituency MP, a brief tenure that ended in 2001, when he was declared a bankrupt for failing to pay after losing a defamation suit against five Indian PAP MPs, among others.
When he left his 30-year-long WP vehicle in that same year, after accusing his successor Low of not helping him clear his debts, he was effectively banished to the margins of the opposition scene here.
Yet, the old warhorse refused to believe that he was irrelevant to Singaporeans.
Mr Jeyaretnam's niece, who gave her name only as Kavinia, said he had not been feeling well for the past three weeks.
But as recently as July, when he hosted a dinner to launch his new party, Mr Jeyaretnam still appeared strong.
Sporting his usual lamb-chop style sideburns, Mr Jeyaretnam stood before the crowd and, in typical style, spoke for almost an hour.
'Come, walk with me, let us walk together... for peace, justice, truth... fearing no one except God,' he had urged the gathering.
Mr Jeyaretnam is survived by two sons, Kenneth and Philip. His wife, Margaret, whom he had met when they were law students in Britain, died of breast cancer a year before he was elected to Parliament in 1981.
-- With additional reporting from AFP.