Nelson Mandela -- the long-jailed activist whose famous struggle to replace South Africa's racial segregation system of apartheid eventually led him to become the country's first black president -- has died at the age of 95, South African President Jacob Zuma announced Thursday.
Mandela -- who was born July 18, 1918 in the South African village of Mvezo -- had been hospitalized in recent months after being treated since early June for a recurring lung infection. A message posted to Mandela's official Twitter page on Thursday read: "Death is something inevitable.When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people&his country,he can rest in peace."
Mandela became actively involved in the anti-apartheid movement in his 20s. He joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1942 and for the next 20 years, directed a campaign of peaceful, non-violent defiance against his country's racist policies.
When the ANC was outlawed in 1960, Mandela was forced to go underground. He was eventually arrested and charged with sabotage and attempting to violently overthrow the government and in 1964 was sentenced to life in prison, where he spent 27 years.
In December 1993, Mandela and former South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and five months later, after an all-race democratic election, Mandela was overwhelmingly elected president.
After stepping down as president in 1999, Mandela continued to work as South Africa's highest-profile ambassador, campaigning extensively against the spread of HIV/AIDS and helping to secure his country's bid to host the 2010 World Cup competition.
Mandela -- who had a total of six children -- married his first wife, Evelyn Mase, in 1944 and they were divorced in 1958. He then married Winnie Madikizela, who became very active in campaigning for his release from prison. Mandela separated from Winnie in 1992 on grounds that she committed adultery. Winnie had also been convicted on charges of kidnapping and accessory to assault.
The impact of Mandela's life was felt all over the world, prompting many dignitaries to speak out following his passing.
"Today the world has lost one of its most important leaders and one of its finest human beings," said President Bill Clinton. "And Hillary, Chelsea and I have lost a true friend.
"History will remember Nelson Mandela as a champion for human dignity and freedom, for peace and reconciliation," Clinton continued. "We will remember him as a man of uncommon grace and compassion, for whom abandoning bitterness and embracing adversaries was not just a political strategy but a way of life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Graça and his family and to the people of South Africa. All of us are living in a better world because of the life that Madiba lived. He proved that there is freedom in forgiving, that a big heart is better than a closed mind, and that life’s real victories must be shared."
"Today the world lost one of the true giants of the past century," said Morgan Freeman. "Nelson Mandela was a man of incomparable honor, unconquerable strength, and unyielding resolve---a saint to many, a hero to all who treasure liberty, freedom and the dignity of humankind. As we remember his triumphs, let us, in his memory, not just reflect on how far we've come, but on how far we have to go. Madiba may no longer be with us, but his journey continues on with me and with all of us."
"Mandela was one of the great leaders and teachers of the twentieth century," said Paul Simon. "He conceived a model for mortal enemies to overcome their hatred and find a way through compassion to rebuild a nation based on truth, justice and the power of forgiveness. His passing should reignite a worldwide effort for peace."
"Today, as it did while he inhabited our planet, Nelson Mandela's spirit truly soars with the angels," said Quincy Jones. "It was a spirit born of a generosity, love, compassion and hope for mankind that may never exist at such a heightened level in any single human being again."
"What an honor it was to step into the shoes of Nelson Mandela and portray a man who defied odds, broke down barriers, and championed human rights before the eyes of the world," said Idris Elba. "My thoughts and prayers are with his family."
"Portraying Nelson Mandela, in the film Goodbye Bafana was a defining moment in my life and my career," said Dennis Haysbert. "We as a society, have been blessed to live in a time that Nelson Mandela has lived, loved, and led. What he has done for his country, his countrymen, and everyone on this planet may not be achieved again ... ever. I will always honor him as a saint."