Danish artist Kurt Westergaard, famed for drawing a caricature the Prophet Mohammed which sparked outrage around the Muslim world, has died at the age 86, his family told Danish media on Sunday.
Westergaard passed away in his sleep after a long period of ill health, his family told newspaper Berlingske.
The illustrator was behind 12 drawings published by conservative daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten under the headline “The Face of Mohammed”, one of which sparked particular anger.
The violence linked to the cartoons culminated in a 2015 massacre that left 12 people dead at the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly in Paris, which had reprinted the cartoons in 2012.
Westergaard later said that he had never depicted the prophet. According to Westergaard, the main message of his cartoon was that religion is sometimes used as an inspiration for terrorism. He also said in an interview with the Danish public broadcaster that “certain elements in the Muslim world wanted it to be Mohammed”.
Briefly working for the newspaper Demokraten, he was a cartoonist for Jyllands-Posten from the early 1980s on. While working there, he became known for his depiction of Muhammed wearing a bomb in a turban as part of the Prophet cartoons controversy; including cartoon by Westergaard.
Following the release of Dutch politician Geert Wilders’ film Fitna, which used Westergaard’s cartoon without permission, Westergaard made a cartoon depicting Wilders with a bomb and a sign which reads: “Danger! Freedom of expression”.
According to the Danish television channel TV 2, confirmation of Westergaard’s death from former editor-in-chief of Jyllands-Posten Carsten Juste was available. The Danish public broadcaster DR also reported on Sunday, referring to an old friend of Westergaard.
The so-called cartoon dispute also led to diplomatic discontent between several Islamic countries and Denmark. Within the country and beyond, the events sparked a bitter debate about the limits of freedom of expression and religion.