Most of Sayyid Ruhollah al-Musavi al-Khomeini's immediate family had passed away by the time he was a young man of 15. He was raised by an older brother who helped him memorize the Koran and learn the basics of Shiite Islam.
As Khomeini continued to study and rise from the rank of pupil to ayatollah, he was angered by the interference of foreign powers in Iran. Foreign governments often supported Iranian leaders who promoted modern policies that violated Islamic traditions. The first of these leaders was Reza Shah Pahlavi. In 1921 he overthrew Iran's first constitutioal government with the support of the Russian government. Khomeini wrote this of Pahlavi's government in 1941, "all orders issued by the dictatorial regime... have no value at all." Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi came to power in 1941 with the help of Great Britain, France, and the United States. Then in the early 1960s Pahlavi proclaimed a White Revolution in which he introduced many Western ideas. Khomeini vehemently attacked the shah's policies, prompting the shah to expel him from Iran in 1964.
Khomeini then forged his doctrine of the "Rule of the Jurist," which called for the clergy to govern, and spread his ideas through a network of 12,000 students. He urged Iranians to topple the shah and his American allies. The Shah was finally overthrown and forced to flee the country in January of 1979.
In December of 1979 a new constitution was passed declaring Iran an Islamic republic, and Khomeini was named imam (a successor of Muhammad) and supreme leader for life.
A year after Khomeini's success, Iraq invaded Iran, marking the beginning of a devastating eight year conflict. As the costs of the war mounted, Khomeini, in his words, "drank the cup of poison" and accepted a truce mediated by the United Nations.
Millions of Iranians mourned Khomeini's death in June of 1989. Although Iran's economy was greatly weakened at the time of his death, the Islamic state was well established.