Fidel Castro, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura
Javier Galeano  /  AP
Cuba's Fidel Castro attends the 6th Communist Party Congress in Havana, Cuba, in April.
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updated 9/2/2011 2:36:38 PM ET 2011-09-02T18:36:38

It's been more than a year since Fidel Castro burst back on the scene with a spate of public appearances and dire warnings of nuclear Armageddon. But after a flurry of activity that quieted speculation about his exit from the world stage, the Cuban revolutionary's revival tour seems to be over.

Castro has not appeared in public since a key Communist Party meeting in April when he seemed unsteady and unusually frail. He has also virtually stopped writing his trademark opinion pieces and didn't make a statement or release a photograph on his 85th birthday in August.

The silence has prompted the usual death rumors from Miami, propagated on exile radio and television stations and through social media sites such as Twitter. Castro's health has even been the subject of a computer virus embedded in a spam email titled "Fidel is Dead," which features a doctored, grainy photograph that appeared to show the Cuban leader lying in a coffin.

Story: Fidel Castro turns 85, skips his birthday bash

In Venezuela, a newspaper claimed Fidel's supposedly failing health explained why President Hugo Chavez remained in his home country for a third round of chemotherapy, after receiving treatment in Havana on the first two occasions.

The Cuban government, as always, has remained silent. Requests by The Associated Press for comment on Castro's health and on what he does with his days went unanswered. The government keeps his exact whereabouts a state secret and has long kept even mundane details of his personal life private.

"My premise with Fidel Castro is you start with the fact that he's Lazarus and proceed from there," said Ann Louise Bardach, the author of "Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana and Washington," which she began writing in 2006 to coincide with Castro's much-predicted demise.

"Whatever you think of him, this man has a life force which is formidable," Bardach said. "We're not dealing with a normal mortal here. If there is ever going to be somebody who never dies, it's him."

Transfer of power
Castro stepped down in July 2006 and turned over power to his brother Raul due to a serious intestinal illness that he later said nearly killed him. He continued to publish opinion pieces, called "Reflections," in state newspaper Granma but remained out of the public eye for four years before suddenly reappearing in July 2010. He met then with economists, diplomats and lawmakers and even attended a dolphin show at the Havana aquarium.

Before long, Castro was back rallying throngs of supporters under the Havana sun and had dusted off his olive-green military fatigues. He seemed to soak up the attention.

He used his return to the limelight to warn about the threat of a nuclear exchange pitting the United States and Israel against Iran. Later, as Arab Spring protests roiled both pro- and anti-Western governments in the Middle East, Castro showed solidarity with longtime ally Moammar Gadhafi by publishing biting criticism of NATO and the United States. He wrote that the intervention in Libya was a "macabre dance of cynicism" designed to seize Libyan oil fields.

In April, Castro relinquished his final official role as Communist Party chief, making a dramatic appearance with his brother at the close of a key party gathering. Castro needed the help of a young aide to walk to his chair as hundreds of delegates applauded, some with tears in their eyes. Once seated, he seemed to slump over as if losing his balance.

Since then, Castro has made no public appearances, though photographs and video of him meeting with Chavez and other visiting dignitaries have been released. His absence has been noted on the streets.

"He seemed so fragile to me the last time he was on television, when we saw him with Chavez," said Angela Blanco, a 66-year-old Havana resident. "I'm worried about him because he used to be so strong."

Waiting on Cuba's confirmation
Most surprisingly, the Cuban revolutionary has stopped writing about world affairs that are clearly close to his heart. He said nothing last month as Gadhafi's forces succumbed to a rebel offensive and the Libyan leader went into hiding. He hasn't commented on the recent violence in Syria, the London street riots in August or the usual political bickering in Washington, all of which would have certainly drawn punditry from a more active Castro.

In fact, the Cuban leader has published just one opinion piece since May 26, announcing that Chavez's first round of chemotherapy was a success.

So far this year, Fidel has published his thoughts or statements 37 times, compared with 85 times in 2010, and 111 the previous year, according to an AP count.

While he has gone on hiatus before, Castro's most recent silence, coupled with his milestone 85th birthday, has increased the sense that one of the most energetic figures of the 20th century is slowing down.

Castro himself alluded to his limitations in an apology to well-wishers after missing outdoor celebrations in April marking the 50th anniversary of Cuba's victory at the Bay of Pigs.

"Believe me that I felt pain when I saw that some of you were looking for me on the dais," he wrote. "I thought everyone understood that I can no longer do what I have done so many times before."

Still, Cuban-American observers have learned from experience to question whispers that Castro's end is near.

"When you've been following this as long as I have, you don't believe any news about Castro's health until you read the confirmation from the Cuban government," said Tomas Bilbao, executive director of the U.S. Cuba Study Group, a business-backed organization that supports exchanges with the island. "As far as I'm concerned, nothing's changed."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Fidel Castro: The Life of the Cuban Leader

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  1. Three-year-old Fidel Castro is pictured here in 1929. (Cuban Council of State Photo Archive) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. The three Castro brothers in 1941 from left to right: Fidel, Raul, and Ramon. Castro named his younger brother Raul his temporary successor on July, 31, 2006, after undergoing intestinal surgery. It marked the first time that Castro had relinquished power in 47 years of rule. (Council of State Photo Archive) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Castro, at 17 years old, plays basketball at Belen Jesuit High School in 1943. (Cuban Council of State Photo Archive) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Castro took up arms against the Cuban regime of President Fulgencio Batista for the first time unsuccessfully in 1953. Hoping to spark a popular revolt, Castro led more than 100 followers in a failed attack on the Moncada military barracks in Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953. He survived the attack, but was imprisoned for two years. After receiving amnesty he went to Mexico where he was detained by Mexican immigration authorities for training troops for another uprising in Cuba. He is shown here resting on his cot in December 1956 in a Mexico City jail. He was released shortly after this picture was taken and continued his fight against Batista. (Bettmann via Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Castro is cheered by a village crowd on his victorious march into Havana in January 1959 after revolutionary forces seized control of Cuba. (Grey Villet / Time & Life Pictures via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Castro and his Marxist revolutionary ally, Che Guevara, try their hand at golf in 1959 after seizing power in the Cuban Revolution. (Cuban Council of State Photo Archive) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Castro and the American novelist Ernest Hemingway in Havana in 1959. Hemingway spent many years in Cuba and his novella “The Old Man and the Sea,” for which he won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature, centers on an aging Cuban fisherman. After the Cuban Revolution, Hemingway was forced to flee Cuba and return to Ketchum, Idaho where he lived out the last years of his life. (Cuban Council of State Photo Archive) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fidel Castro talks with Ed Sullivan, television variety show host and N.Y. Daily News columnist, January 6, 1959, days after the Cuban revolution ousted the Batista regime. The United States was the first nation to recognize Castro as Cuba's leader, but his radical economic reforms quickly rattled American leaders. (Harold Valentine / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Castro visits the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 1959. Castro visited the U.S. in April of 1959 as part of a charm offensive for his new government, but was refused a meeting with President Eisenhower. (Cuban Council of State Photo Archive) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Castro speaking before a huge gathering of people in Cuba in 1960. (Cuban Council of State Photo Archive) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Castro and Ricardo Alarcón on national TV on April 9, 1961, a few days before the failed U.S. invasion of Cuba on April 15, 1961 known as the Bay of Pigs. Alarcón, head of the Cuban parliament since 1993, is still a close Castro confidante and his main point person on U.S. relations. (Cuban Council of State Photo Archive) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Cuban Revolution leaders Fidel Castro and Che Guevara shown during a meeting Havana in the early '60s. Castro declared his revolution to be a socialist movement on April 16, 1961. The failed U.S. invasion of Cuba, known as the Bay of Pigs, happened the next day, on April 17, 1961. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Castro sits inside a tank near Playa Giron, Cuba, during the Bay of Pigs invasion on April 17, 1961. About 1,500 Cuban exiles, supported by the CIA, landed in Cuba in the Bay of Pigs on April 17, 1961 with the purpose of sparking a popular uprising and ousting Castro's government. Most rebels were quickly captured or killed by the Cuban armed forces, marking a major defeat in the U.S. effort to dislodge Castro from power. (Raul Corrales / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Castro cuts sugar cane in a Cuban field in October, 1962. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Castro learning to ski during a trip to Russia in 1962. The Soviet Union was a major source of military and economic aid for Cuba until its collapse in 1991. (Cuban Council of State Photo Archive) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Prime Minister Fidel Castro gives a radio and televised speech on Oct. 22, 1962 during which he talked about the measures taken by the United States regarding Cuba and the annoucement by President John F. Kennedy of a U.S. blockade of the island. The tense 13-day standoff over Soviet nuclear-armed missile installed on the island, brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war. It was resolved after Nikita Khrushchev offered to remove the missiles. (Keystone-France via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Castro, his bother Raul, and Che Guevara in 1963. (Cuban Council of State Photo Archive) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Castro holds the hand of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev during an official visit to Moscow in May 1963. Taking advantage of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, Cuba relied on billions of dollars in Soviet subsidies for decades. The disappearance of Soviet aid after the collapse of the Soviet Union created hard times in Cuba known as the "Special Period" because of the tight rationing of food, fuel, and consumer goods. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Castro, a star pitcher at the University of Havana and longtime baseball fan, gets set to fire a ball as he pitches for Camaguey Province against Pinar Del Rio Province at Cuba's Veradero Beach in July 1964. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Cuba Leader Fidel Castro sits with Moammar Gadhafi in Tripoli on March 8, 1977. In 2011, Castro criticized the United States involvement in Libya calling NATO's actions "genocide." (Arna / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Castro, once a passionate cigar smoker, is seen here exhaling cigar smoke during an interview in March, 1985 at his presidential palace in Havana. He gave up the habit in 1986 citing health concerns. Cuba has long been known as the world's foremost producer of cigars and the industry generates over $200 million annually for the country's economy. Bans on smoking in public places were introduced in Cuba in 2005. (Charles Tasnadi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Castro took to the streets of Havana during the Aug. 5, 1994 riots, the largest anti-government riots since he had assumed power, that sparked the rafters crisis. Five years after the fall of the Soviet Union the Cuban economy was in disarray and tens of thousands of Cubans cast out in homemade rafts to make the risky journey to the U.S. creating a migration crisis. (Cuban Council of State Photo Archive) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Castro visiting the Great Wall of China during a state visit in December, 1995. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba looked towards China more as a Communist ally. (Cuban Council of State Photo Archive) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Pope John Paul II shakes hands with Castro at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana on Jan. 21, 1998 after the Pope arrived for his landmark visit to the communist nation. (Michel Gangne / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Castro talks with Elian Gonzalez during the inauguration of the "Museo a la Batalla de Ideas" in Cardenas, Cuba on July 14, 2001.

    Gonzalez was aboard an overcrowded motorboat that capsized en route from Cuba to Florida, killing his mother and others seeking to enter the United States illegally. He was rescued off Florida on Nov. 25, 1999, and then was at the center of a seven-month custody tug-of-war that culminated in US federal agents seizing him by force from Miami-based relatives. (Adalberto Roque / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Former South African President Nelson Mandela and Cuban leader Fidel Castro embrace during a visit by Castro on Sept. 2, 2001 in Johannesburg, South Africa where the two leaders were participating in the World Conference Against Racism. In power since the Cuban revolution in January 1959, Castro was one of the world's longest ruling leaders. Only Queen Elizabeth, crowned in 1952, has been head of state longer. (Jose Goitia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Cuban President Fidel Castro and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter talk after a friendly game of baseball at the Latinoamericano Stadium on May 14, 2002 in Havana, Cuba. This is the first visit by a former or sitting U.S. President since Castro came to power in 1959. (Jorge Rey / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Castro speaks with his brother Raul Castro during a meeting of the Cuban Parliament during December 2003.

    Raul Castro, who has been running Cuba since his brother Fidel was sidelined by illness in 2006, became his official successor in February 2008. (Adalberto Roque / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Two women hold up the latest edition of Granma newspaper bearing the headline "Message from the Commander in Chief," on Feb. 19, 2008, in Havana. Castro stepped down that morning as the president of Cuba after a long illness, according to Granma, the official publication of the Cuban Communist Party. (Jose Goitia / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Fidel Castro is seen on June 18, 2008 in Havana during a meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, left, and his brother Cuban President Raul Castro, right. Castro, 81, has not been seen in public since he fell during an appearance in July 2006, but the state-run media occassionally releases official photos of the ailing former leader. (Estudios Revolucion / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Fidel Castro speaks during a meeting with students at Havana's University on Sept. 3, 2010. Castro warned of the dangers of nuclear war in his first speech to the Cuban public since falling ill in 2006. (Desmond Boylan / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Fidel Castro makes a surprise appearance at the 6th Communist Party Congress in Havana, Cuba, on April 19, 2011. Raul Castro, right, was named first secretary of Cuba's Communist Party, with his aging brother Fidel not included in the leadership for the first time since the party's creation. (Javier Galeano / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Castro looks at the camera during a rare public appearance to attend the inauguration of an art gallery on Jan. 8, 2014 in Havana. The gallery Castro visited is run by Cuban artist Alexis Leyva, aka Kcho. (Sven Creutzmann / Mambo Photo via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Castro speaks with China's President Xi Jinping in Havana, on July 22, 2014. Xi Jinping said that his state visit to Cuba is aimed at carrying forward the traditional friendship between the two countries jointly built by Castro and the older generations of Chinese leaders, so as to inject new impetus into bilateral cooperation. (Alex Castro / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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