Yeltsin was born in Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg) in 1931 and trained at the local Urals Polytechnic Institute.
Yeltsin began his career in the construction business (1953-1968). He joined the Communist Party in 1961 and became first secretary of the party in the Sverdlovsk Region in 1976 and a member of the party's central committee in 1981. In 1985, then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev appointed Yeltsin to head the Communist Party's Moscow branch, and in 1986 made him a non-voting member of the party's ruling Politburo.
In October 1987, he was forced to resign from the party leadership and in 1988 from the Politburo after he challenged hardliners and criticized Gorbachev's reforms. He was appointed a deputy construction minister.
In 1989, Yeltsin won elections to the Supreme Soviet (parliament), was elected Russian president by that body, and resigned from the Communist Party. He retained the presidency in the popular election in 1991, when he became Russia's first democratically elected president and Gorbachev's main liberal opponent.
In August 1991, Yeltsin led the resistance to the coup by Communist hard-liners, when Gorbachev was detained at his country house. The success of opposition to the coup shifted power to reformers. In December 1991, he helped found the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a new alliance in which Soviet republics were declared independent. Thereby, Yeltsin helped end attempts to preserve the Soviet Union. Gorbachev resigned as president December 25.
In September 1993, Yeltsin issued a decree to dissolve the Supreme Soviet and hold parliamentary elections. A month later, he ordered the armed suppression of a coup by former Supreme Soviet members led by Vice-President Alexander Rutskoi.
As president, Yeltsin moved to end state control of the economy and oversaw sweeping privatization deals, which brought fortunes to a handful of Kremlin-connected businessmen. Economic difficulties and political opposition slowed the reform.
In 1994, Yeltsin ordered the suppression of Dzhokhar Dudayev's separatist regime in Chechnya. The military campaign in the breakaway republic ended in September 1996 when Russia withdrew all its troops from the republic, thereby, de facto granting Chechnya independence.
In June 1996, he ran for the presidency again and defeated his main communist contender Gennady Zyuganov in the runoff elections in July.
In November 1996, Yeltsin underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery and was confined to the hospital for months and appeared in public less frequently. Moreover, in the late 1990s, Russia was hit by a series of economic crises and frequent cabinet reshuffles.
On New Year's Eve in 1999, Yeltsin surprised the nation by announcing his resignation and appointing then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin acting president.
He is survived by his wife, daughter, grandchildren and great grandchildren.