Ernst Zundel, a former Sevier County resident who later was prosecuted in Germany for denying the existence of the Holocaust, has died at age 78.

The German artist died over the weekend, the Associated Press reported. Born in Germany in the early days of World War II, he had migrated as a young man to Canada.

Media outlets in Canada attributed information about the cause of his death - a heart attack - to his wife, Ingrid Rimland Zundel.

Zundel left Canada and moved to Sevier County in 2000 when he was in his 60s. He and his wife settled in the community, they said at the time, to live peacefully and allow him to pursue his passion for painting.

Soon after moving to the Wears Valley area, however, he came under the scrutiny of U.S. authorities. He'd sought permanent residency here, but the government ultimately denied the bid.

He waged a court battle in U.S. District Court in Knoxville that went on for years.

Critics said he held neo-Nazi beliefs and wasn't afraid to espouse them. His writings included "The Hitler We Loved and Why."

On Feb. 5, 2003, Sevier County deputies and federal immigration officials moved in to deport him for alleged immigration violations, according to records. He was held in the Blount County Jail.

His wife maintained a website in which she insisted her husband was being unfairly portrayed. She noted: "In 2003, Ernst Zundel was kidnapped, disparaged, maligned in the media, imprisoned for seven long years in six prisons in three so-called “democratic” countries on two continents, where speaking Truth to Power is now a “crime” enshrined in law."

The Southern Poverty Law Center singled him out as an example of extremist hate. also notes on its website his efforts to deny the mass extermination of Jews.

Two weeks after his detention in East Tennessee, the US deported him to Canada. Zundel later was sent to Germany where he was tried for denying the existence of the Holocaust, Hitler's effort in World War II to wipe out Jews and others he deemed undesirable from Nazi Germany.

Zundel was released from prison in Mannheim, Germany, in 2010.

The New York Times reported that as recently as this year Zündel had sought to come to Tennessee to take care of his wife. According to the newspaper, government officials denied his bid in March.