One of the most beloved leaders of the 20th century, Nelson Mandela died Thursday at the age of 95.
Mandela, who inherited a country on the verge of civil war and torn apart by racial violence, will forever be remembered for bringing hope and reconciliation to South Africa. Controversial for much of his life, he ultimately became a beacon of optimism for people both at home and around the world.
The iconic leader -- known for his charismatic personality, soft-yet-stirring speeches and charitable work post-politics -- spent 27 years behind bars for opposing white rule in his country before becoming South Africa’s first black president in 1994.
Mandela became increasingly frail in recent years and was hospitalized several times in the past few months, receiving treatment for pneumonia, an ongoing lung infection and gallstones.
Though he served only five years in office, Mandela is recognized the world over, often seen as someone with great dignity and moral authority.
While he sought a quiet family life in retirement, he continued to meet with notable dignitaries and celebrities, weigh in international affairs and conflicts, and champion causes in which he believed, including poverty and HIV/AIDS.
At age 85 and amid failing health, he was forced to announce he was “retiring from retirement,” in 2004, retreating from the spotlight as much as possible. His last major public appearance was in 2010, when South Africa hosted the World Cup of Soccer. He was greeted by thunderous applause but made no speech.
Known for his unyielding optimism, Mandela leaves behind a lasting legacy -- with countless parks, schools and squares named in his honour.
His birthday is a public holiday in South Africa, where Mandela is affectionately known by his clan name, Madiba.
Mandela’s life behind bars, in power
For too long known as a political martyr, Mandela was sentenced to life in prison in the 1960s for trying to overthrow the pro-apartheid government.
He served 27 years of hard labour, mostly at Robben Island, looking forward to his only perk -- a 30-minute session with a visitor once a year.
While in jail, Mandela unified the prisoners, foreshadowing the leadership skills he would use when he became the country’s first fully-representative democratically elected president.
His release on Feb. 11, 1990 was brought about in part by heavy economic sanctions imposed on South Africa by dozens of countries, including Canada.
As the world watched on television, Mandela walked confidently toward the prison gates, his wife Winnie at his side. A huge throng of reporters and thousands of supporters wait to greet him, a scene he later described as "a happy, if slightly disorienting chaos."
His next gesture would forever symbolize his struggle.
"I raised my right fist and there was a roar," Mandela recalled.