The ex-president died at Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, capital of Ghana, on Thursday morning.
A military ruler, who later joined politics, Rawlings ruled Ghana from 1981 to 2001.
He led a military junta until 1992, and then served two terms as the democratically elected president of Ghana.
A flight lieutenant of the Ghanaian Air Force, Rawlings first staged military coup as a young revolutionary on May 15, 1979, five weeks before scheduled elections to return the country to civilian rule.
When it failed, he was imprisoned, publicly court-martialed and sentenced to death.
After initially handing power over to a civilian government, he took back control of the country on 31 December 1981 as the chairman of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC).
He then resigned from the military, founded the National Democratic Congress (NDC), and became the first president of the Fourth Republic.
He was re-elected in 1996 for four more years. After two terms in office, the limit according to the Ghanaian constitution, Rawlings endorsed his vice-president John Atta Mills as presidential candidate in 2000.
He was born on June 22, 1947.