Actor and director Penn, who first met Chávez in Venezuela in 2007 and attended a candlelit vigil for the stricken firebrand in Bolivia in December, bemoaned the politician's lack of credibility in North America.
"Today the people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion," he said in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter. "I lost a friend I was blessed to have. My thoughts are with the family of President Chávez and the people of Venezuela." Penn added: "Venezuela and its revolution will endure under the proven leadership of Vice-President [Nicolas] Maduro."
Director Oliver Stone, who celebrated Chávez's presidency and the successes of left wing politicians across South America in his 2009 documentary South of the Border, said the Venezuelan leader would be remembered fondly by historians as a champion of the poor.
"I mourn a great hero to the majority of his people and those who struggle throughout the world for a place," he said in a statement. "Hated by the entrenched classes, Hugo Chávez will live forever in history. My friend, rest finally in a peace long earned."
Michael Moore, who met Chávez at the Venice film festival in 2009 and posted pictures of himself with the president, tweeted: "Hugo Chávez declared the oil belonged 2 the ppl. He used the oil $ 2 eliminate 75% of extreme poverty, provide free health & education 4 all. That made him dangerous. US approved of a coup to overthrow him even though he was a democratically-elected president."
Moore added: "Before they cheeleaded [sic] us into the Iraq War, the US media was busy cheering on the overthrow of Chavez. 54 countries around the world allowed the US to detain(& torture) suspects. Latin America, thanks 2 Chavez, was the only place that said no."
Symbol of Latin American socialism
Of their meeting in Venice, Moore said: "We spoke for over an hour. He said he was happy 2 finally meet someone Bush hated more than him."
Chávez (58), the symbol of Latin American socialism, died at a military hospital in Caracas, the capital of the country he has ruled since 1999, on March 5 after a long battle with cancer.
He had been ill for a number of years and shocked his countrymen in June 2011 when he revealed that Cuban surgeons had removed a baseball-sized tumour from his pelvic region. Chávez had not been seen in public for three months since emergency surgery, also in Cuba, on December 11. – © Guardian News and Media 2013