He attended Achimota School before moving on to Achimota College where he acquired his certificate in education 'O' level in 1966.
He joined the Ghana Air Force shortly afterward; on his application, the military switched his surname John and his middle name Rawlings.
In March 1968, he was posted to Takoradi, in Ghana's Western Region, to continue his studies. He graduated in January 1969 and was commissioned as a pilot officer.
He earned the rank of flight lieutenant in April 1978. During his service with the Ghana Air Force, Rawlings perceived deterioration in discipline and morale due to corruption in the Supreme Military Council (SMC).
Rawlings came to power in Ghana as a flight lieutenant of the Ghana Air Force following a coup d'état in 1979.
READ MORE: Rawlings' funeral postponed indefinitely
Rawlings grew discontented with Ignatius Kutu Acheampong's government, which had come to power through a coup in January 1972.
Acheampong was accused not only of corruption but also of maintaining Ghana's dependency on pre-colonial powers, in a situation that led to economic decline and impoverishment.
He led an unsuccessful coup attempt against the ruling military government on May 15, 1979, just five weeks before scheduled democratic elections were due to take place.
Rawlings and six other soldiers staged a coup against the government of General Fred Akuffo, but failed and were arrested by the military.
He was publicly sentenced to death in a General Court Martial and imprisoned, although his statements on the social injustices that motivated his actions won him civilian sympathy.
While awaiting execution, Rawlings was sprung from custody on 4 June 1979 by a group of soldiers.
Claiming that the government was corrupt beyond redemption and that new leadership was required for Ghana's development, he led the group in a coup to oust the Akuffo Government and Supreme Military Council.
Shortly afterward, Rawlings established and became the Chairman of a 15-member Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), primarily composed of junior officers.
He and the AFRC ruled for 112 days and arranged the execution by firing squad of eight military officers, including Generals Kotei, Joy Amedume, Roger Felli, and Utuka, as well as the three former Ghanaian heads of state; Acheampong, Akuffo, and Akwasi Afrifa.
Rawlings later implemented a much wider "house-cleaning exercise" involving the killings and abduction of over 300 Ghanaians.
Elections were held on time shortly after the coup. On 24 September 1979, power was peacefully handed over by Rawlings to President Hilla Limann, whose People's National Party (PNP) had the support of Nkrumah's followers.
After handing power over to a civilian government, he took back control of the country on December 31, 1981, as the chairman of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC).
Rawlings ousted President Hilla Limann in a coup d'état, claiming that civilian rule was weak and the country's economy was deteriorating.
The killings of the Supreme Court justices (Cecilia Koranteng-Addow, Frederick Sarkodie, and Kwadjo Agyei Agyepong), military officers Major Sam Acquah and Major Dasana Nantogmah also occurred during the second military rule of Rawlings.
However, unlike the 1979 executions, these persons were abducted and killed in secret and it is unclear who was behind their murders, though Joachim Amartey Kwei and four others were convicted of murdering the Justices and Acquah, and were executed in 1982.
In 1992, Rawlings 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.
Former President Jerry John Rawlings died on Thursday, November 12, 2020, at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra.
The mortal remains of the late former President Jerry John Rawlings will be interred at the Military Cemetery at Burma Camp in Accra.