Former South Africa President Nelson Mandela, who fought to end apartheid, served from 1994-99 as the first black president elected to office in his country and became a global popular hero, died today. He was 95. Mandela was hospitalized June 8 for a lung infection following a history of recurring health issues, and his family began gathering at his Johannesburg home earlier today. South Africa President Jacob Zuma made the announcement just now in a national address.
The passing comes as the Weinstein Co’s biopic Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom is having its UK premiere, with members of the royal family in attendance. The news broke during the premiere screening and was announced to the guests after the credits had rolled when a two minutes’ silence was held.
Jailed in 1962, Mandela spent 27 years as a political prisoner in his own country before his 1990 release and subsequently led the charge to end apartheid with the African National Congress. His fight made him an international symbol for peace and progress, earning him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Less than five months after his release from prison, Mandela embarked on a grueling, eight-city tour of the U.S., which included an address before Congress and a speech on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall. The visit helped cement his hero status, and he became a pop culture icon who inspired feature films and TV movies, saw his likeness on mass-produced T-shirts and had close ties with high-profile figures from Bill Clinton to Bono. Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, the most recent film based on his life, premiered to a standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, opened in theaters November 29 and is getting awards-season buzz. It stars Idris Elba and is based on Mandela’s autobiography.
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Mandela’s life has been repped onscreen many times throughout the decades, starting with the 1987 made-for-TV pic Mandela, starring Danny Glover. In 2010, Morgan Freeman earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Mandela in Clint Eastwood’s Invictus, about his efforts to unite his fractured country through the 1995 Rugby World Cup held in South Africa. Terrence Howard played him in 2011’s Winnie, told from the perspective of Mandela’s second wife.