​World Leaders, Celebrities Pay Tribute to Nelson Mandela

Yesterday, Nelson Mandela, the legendary anti-apartheid activist who went on to become South Africa's first black president, died at the age of 95. World leaders, activists, and celebrities have spent the time since sharing memories and paying tribute to the former leader.

President Obama held a brief press conference shortly after Mandela's death was announced. "I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela's life," he said. "My very first political action — the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics was a protest against apartheid. I would study his words and his writings. The day he was released from prison it gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they're guided by their hopes and not by their fears."

Former U.S. Presidents also paid tribute. "As President, I watched in wonder as Nelson Mandela had the remarkable capacity to forgive his jailers following 26 years of wrongful imprisonment — setting a powerful example of redemption and grace for us all," George H.W. Bush said. "He was a man of tremendous moral courage, who changed the course of history in his country."

George W. Bush, whose vice-president, Dick Cheney, once called Mandela a "terrorist," described the South African leader as "one of the great forces for freedom and equality of our time."

Bill Clinton offered his condolences on Twitter, writing that he would "always miss his friend Madiba," and Jimmy Carter said Mandela "was a man of tremendous moral courage, who changed the course of history in his country... His passion for freedom and justice created new hope for generations of oppressed people worldwide."

Seemingly every world leader released statements honoring Mandela, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, who said he was a "a world-renowned statesman" who the people of China will remember for his contributions to "the cause of human progress." German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Mandela "was always associated with the fight against the oppression of his people and with overcoming the apartheid regime."

Queen Elizabeth II said Mandela "worked tirelessly for the good of his country, and his legacy is the peaceful South Africa we see today," and Pope Francis spoke of "the steadfast commitment shown by Nelson Mandela in promoting the human dignity of all the nation's citizens and in forging a new South Africa."

British Prime Minister David Cameron said "a great light has gone out in the world," and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Mandela's death "is as much India's loss as South Africa's." Officials in France projected lights of red, green, yellow, and blue—the colors of the South African flag—onto the Eiffel Tower.

And celebrities who were inspired by Mandela released statements and took to Twitter to share their memories.

"One of the great honors of my life was to be invited to Nelson Mandela's home, spend private time and get to know him," Oprah said. He was everything you've heard and more– humble and unscathed by bitterness. And he always loved to tell a good joke. Being in his presence was like sitting with grace and majesty at the same time. He will always be my hero. His life was a gift to us all."

"Nearly 20 years after our first meeting, my company Revelations had the unique pleasure of developing and producing the film Invictus, with me in the role of Mandela," Morgan Freeman wrote in an essay for TIME. "Consistent with the true content of his character, his only comment after we first screened the movie for him was a humble, 'Now perhaps people will remember me.'"

Desmond Tutu, Mandela's close friend and the first black Archbishop of Cape Town, spoke of his friend's death at a church service. "Do we want to set up a memorial for him?" he asked the congregation. "I think he wouldn't want something in stone. Ultimately he would want us, South Africans, to be his memorial. He has enabled us to know what we can become. Help us become that kind of nation."

[Image via AP]