LOS ANGELES • American artist Gilbert Baker, who created the rainbow flag recognised around the world as a symbol of gay pride, has died, close friend and rights activist Cleve Jones has announced.
Baker, who was 65, came up with the iconic eight-coloured banner for San Francisco's 1978 gay freedom day, a precursor to the modern pride festival. He taught himself to sew when he was in his 20s.
The former soldier was heavily involved in the San Francisco lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights movement and was a close friend of murdered activist and politician Harvey Milk.
"I am heartbroken. My dearest friend in the world is gone. Gilbert gave the world the Rainbow Flag; he gave me 40 years of love and friendship," Mr Jones posted on Facebook. "I can't stop crying. I love you forever, Gilbert Baker."
Mr Jones did not reveal the cause but the San Francisco Chronicle said the artist died in his sleep at home in New York late last Thursday.
Mr Jones urged friends in San Francisco to gather for an evening vigil under a rainbow flag in the city's Castro district.
The news prompted an outpouring of tributes on social media. "Rainbows weep. Our world is far less colourful without you," tweeted film-maker Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for the screenplay to the 2008 biopic Milk, starring Sean Penn as the gay politician.
Baker, who was born in Kansas in 1951, served for two years in the army, according to his website, and was stationed in San Francisco just as the gay liberation movement was gathering momentum.
"I just talked to Gilbert last month. He gave us his best and the rainbow flag will be an even more treasured keepsake of our history," posted Mr Robert York, a senior director at healthcare lobby group, the National Quality Forum.