Simin Behbahani, 87, whose politically defiant writing was mentioned by President Obama in a message seeking better ties with Iran, died of heart failure Tuesday in Tehran.

Known as "the lioness" to Iranians, she had been in a coma for two weeks and had previously shown signs of Alzheimer's disease and respiratory problems.

Born in Tehran, she began writing poetry from a young age and became one of Iran's most prominent poets, receiving recognition at home and overseas.

She modernized the traditional Persian ghazal, a form of verse with structural similarities to the sonnet, expanding from themes of love to human rights and dignity, said Farzaneh Milani, who teaches at the University of Virginia and has translated her poems.

Her words were not always appreciated by Iranian authorities, who censored some of her poems.

In 2011, Obama cited lines from her "My Country, I Will Build You Again" in a video message addressing Iranians on the Persian New Year.

He ended his message with a verse from the poem: "Old, I may be, but, given the chance, I will learn. I will begin a second youth alongside my progeny. I will recite the Hadith of love of country with such fervor as to make each word bear life."
- Bloomberg News