President Hugo Chavez died of a heart attack after great suffering and inaudibly mouthed his desire to live, said the head of Venezuela's presidential guard.
"He couldn't speak, but he said it with his lips... 'I don't want to die. Please don't let me die,' because he loved his country, he sacrificed himself for his country," General Jose Ornella said.
The general said he spent the past two years with Mr Chavez, including his final moments, as Venezuela's president of 14 years fought cancer.
Mr Ornella spoke outside the military academy where Mr Chavez's body lay in state before tomorrow's funeral. He said his cancer was very advanced when death came but gave no details.
The government said on the eve of Mr Chavez's death aged 58 that he had suffered a severe new respiratory infection. It was the second such infection reported by officials after the president underwent his fourth cancer operation in Cuba on December 11.
Venezuelan authorities have not said what kind of cancer Mr Chavez had or specified exactly where tumours were removed.
Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Caracas yesterday to catch a glimpse of the coffin as it was carried on a hearse from the military hospital where Mr Chavez died to the military academy where he started his army career. The glass-topped casket is on view to the public at the academy, where Chavez's family and close advisers attended a funeral Mass with the presidents of Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay.
Former vice president Nicolas Maduro has taken leadership until the presidential election which will be called within a month. Maduro is predicted to win as the candidate of the governing United Socialist Party.