BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Former President Suleiman Franjieh, the last of Lebanon's Christian warlords, died Thursday. He was 82.

Franjieh died before dawn at the American University Hospital, where he had been since July 2, hospital officials said. His health had been failing for some time. Franjieh's body was taken to his hometown of Zghorta for burial on Saturday.

Chief of a powerful Maronite Catholic clan in the mountains of northern Lebanon, he was reputed to have ordered the slayings of hundreds of people.

Known as ''the Sphinx,'' the chain-smoking Franjieh ran a private army of 5,000 called the Marada, or Giants. He one of several feudal lords who controlled much of Lebanon after independence from France in 1943.

Other chieftains of Franjieh's generation included Pierre Gemayel, Camille Chamoun and Kamal Jumblatt, all dead.

Unlike most Maronites, who allied with Israel, Franjieh was supported by Syria. In Lebanon's civil war, he sided with right-wing Christians against Palestinian guerrillas and leftist-Muslim factions.

Franjieh was elected president in August 1970. Some Lebanese say widespread corruption in his government and its of force against political opponents accelerated the country's slide into civil war in 1975.

Born in Zghorta on June 15, 1910, Franjieh spent his early life in the shadow of his older brother, Hamid, a member of Parliament.

In the 1930s, Franjieh ran a trading business in Beirut but began making his mark as the boss in Zghorta and nearby Tripoli.

In June 1957, Franjieh and his men were accused of slaughtering members of a rival clan, the Dwaihis, in a church near Zghorta. Franjieh fled to Syria where he met Syrian President Hafez Assad, then a young officer.

Fifteen months later, Franjieh was pardoned and returned to Zghorta. Hamid had suffered a stroke, and in 1960 Franjieh was elected to his brother's parliamentary seat.

He was minister of agriculture, justice, interior and economy before being elected president, pledging to restore the supremacy of the political dynasties whose power had been undermined by the reformist administrations of Gen. Foud Chehab and Charles Helou.

In June 1976, Franjieh invited Syria to send troops to support the outnumbered Christians in the civil war. But he broke with the Christian alliance in February 1978 after it demanded a Syrian withdrawal.

The main Christian militia, the Phalange, retaliated by attacking Franjieh's summer mansion in June 1978, killing his eldest son, Tony, his daughter-in-law wife and 30 bodyguards.

Franjieh vowed to avenge them, and security sources say more than 400 Phalangists have been killed by Franjieh's men.

At 78, Franjieh made another bid for the presidency when President Amin Gemayel's term expired in September 1988. But by 1989, when elections were held, he was ailing.

Franjieh is survived by three daughters and a son.