Schwarzkopf, who was given the nickname of Stormin' Normin, led the invasion of Iraq and expelled Saddam Hussein's Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991.
The highly decorated general lived in retirement in Tampa, where he had served in his last military assignment as commander-in-chief of United States Central Command, responsible for American forces from the eastern Mediterranean and Africa to Pakistan.
When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1991 to punish it for allegedly stealing Iraqi oil reserves, Schwarzkopf commanded Operation Desert Storm, the coalition of some 30 countries organised by president George HW Bush that succeeded in driving the Iraqis out.
"General Norm Schwarzkopf, to me, epitomised the 'duty, service, country' creed that has defended our freedom and seen this great nation through our most trying international crises," Bush said in a statement. "More than that, he was a good and decent man and a dear friend."
At the peak of his postwar national celebrity, Schwarzkopf, a self-proclaimed political independent, rejected suggestions that he run for office, and remained far more private than other generals.
While focused primarily in his later years on charitable enterprises, he campaigned for president George W Bush in 2000 but was ambivalent about the 2003 invasion of Iraq, saying he doubted victory would be as easy as the White House and Pentagon predicted. In early 2003 he told the Washington Post the outcome was an unknown.
"What is postwar Iraq going to look like, with the Kurds and the Sunnis and the Shiites? That's a huge question, to my mind. It really should be part of the overall campaign plan," he said.
Initially Schwarzkopf had endorsed the invasion, saying he was convinced that former secretary of state Colin Powell had given the United Nations powerful evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. After that proved false, he said decisions to go to war should depend on what UN weapons inspectors found.
He seldom spoke up during the conflict, but in late 2004, he sharply criticised then defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon for mistakes that included inadequate training for Army reservists sent to Iraq and for erroneous judgments about Iraq.
"In the final analysis I think we are behind schedule. ... I don't think we counted on it turning into jihad (holy war)," he said in an NBC interview.
Schwarzkopf was born 24 August 1934, in Trenton, New Jersey, where his father, Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr, founder and commander of the New Jersey State Police, was then leading the investigation of the Lindbergh kidnap case.
He graduated from West Point in 1956 with an engineering degree following stints of study abroad. He earned a master's degree in engineering at the University of Southern California and later taught missile engineering at West Point.
In 1966 Schwarzkopf volunteered for Vietnam and served two tours, first as a US adviser to south Vietnamese paratroops and later as a battalion commander in the US Army's Americal Division. He earned three Silver Stars for valour including one for saving troops from a minefield plus a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and three Distinguished Service Medals.
While many career officers left military service embittered by Vietnam, Schwarzkopf was among those who opted to stay and help rebuild the tattered Army into a potent, modernised all-volunteer force.
Although reputed to be short-tempered with aides and subordinates, Schwarzkopf was a friendly, talkative and even jovial figure who didn't like Stormin' Norman and preferred to be known as the Bear, a sobriquet given him by troops.
While he later avoided the public second-guessing by academics and think tank experts over the ambiguous outcome of the 1991 Gulf War and its impact on the later invasion he told the Washington Post in 2003, "You can't help but... with 20/20 hindsight, go back and say, 'Look, had we done something different, we probably wouldn't be facing what we are facing today.'"
After retiring from the Army in 1992, Schwarzkopf wrote anautobiography, It Doesn't Take A Hero. Of his Gulf war role, he said, "I like to say I'm not a hero. I was lucky enough to lead a very successful war."
Schwarzkopf was a national spokesman for prostate cancer awareness and for Recovery of the Grizzly Bear, served on the Nature Conservancy board of governors and was active in various charities for chronically ill children.
"I may have made my reputation as a general in the Army and I'm very proud of that," he once told the AP. "But I've always felt that I was more than one-dimensional. I'd like to think I'm a caring human being. ... It's nice to feel that you have a purpose."
Schwarzkopf and his wife, Brenda, had three children: Cynthia, Jessica and Christian.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010