7 Powerful Tributes to Nelson Mandela

By An Phung
|  Sunday, Dec 8, 2013  |  Updated 3:07 PM EDT
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The World Remembers Mandela's Incredible Life

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Nelson Mandela died Thursday at the age of 95, South African President Jacob Zuma announced.

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U2 frontman Bono remembers Nelson Mandela the way many others did: an anti-apartheid, anti-poverty leader who became South Africa's first democratically elected President.

But some of the most intriguing insights in Bono's Time.com tribute to Mandela had nothing to do with him as a leader, but rather what he was like as a person.

"He had humor and humility in his bearing," Bono wrote. "And he was smarter and funnier than the parade of world leaders who flocked to see him."

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Mandela's death on Thursday has prompted an outpouring of reactions from world leaders, celebrities and other prominent figures and some of the most heartfelt tributes emerging in the wake of his passing are offering unique perspective into the former South African president's electrifying life.

Mandela damaged his tear ducts while working in the limestone mines, which left him unable to cry, Bono wrote. "For all this man’s farsightedness and vision, he could not produce tears in a moment of self-doubt or grief." Mandela had surgery in 1994 to fix his eye, according to Bono.

Here are six other powerful tributes:

Actor Morgan Freeman played up Mandela's "wisdom, patience and compassion" in a tribute that was also published Thursday on Time.com. Freeman said he shared a 20-year friendship with Mandela.

"I got to walk with him, talk with him, hold his hand and get to know one of the greatest men who ever lived," Freeman wrote.

Freeman went on to play Mandela in "Invictus," the 2009 film inspired by rugby player Francois Pienaar, who led the South African national rugby team to the win the World Cup in 1995. Rugby was a symbol of racist white rule for many black people in South Africa, but Mandela saw sports as unifier for his "Rainbow Nation."

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Freeman said Mandela's reaction to the movie was "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.'" Freeman wrote.

Pienaar, the rugby player portrayed by Matt Damon in the film, recounted his first meeting with Mandela in an interview published on Friday by the Global Post. He said that what he heard first was Mandela's "booming voice," but what he remembers most was the president's "sense of warmth."

"I felt safe," Peinaar said. "I felt like I was in the presence of a very, very wise person."

President Barack Obama also understood the effect Mandela had on people. He said in a speech on Thursday that he drew inspiration from Mandela's work to affect change through politics. But it was Mandela's human side, the president said, that made him effective.

"The fact that he did it all with grace and good humor, and an ability to acknowledge his own imperfections, only makes the man that much more remarkable," Obama said. "As he once said, 'I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.'"

Oprah Winfrey, meanwhile, planned to re-air on OWN Sunday an interview she conducted with Mandela in 2000.

Spending time with him was like "sitting with grace and majesty," Winfrey said in a statement on her website. But Mandela, "always loved to tell a good joke."

New York Times journalist Suzanne Daley, the paper's Johannesburg bureau chief from 1995 to 1999,  remembered Mandela as "quite a dandy" who fussed over his appearance and enjoyed flirting with women.

"He always managed to talk to the women wherever he went," Daley wrote in the Times. "Young or old. He would literally get a sparkle in his eyes when there was a pretty girl around. Even when he didn’t seem to be looking, he took notice. He liked to tease."

Next week's cover of the "New Yorker" magazine will hone in on a different side of Mandela, that of a freedom fighter. It will feature a drawing of a young Mandela with his fist raised. Artist Kadir Nelson said he wanted to make a "simple and bold statement about Mandela and his life as a freedom fighter."

"The raised fist and the simple, stark palette reminded me of posters and anti-apartheid imagery of the nineteen-eighties," Nelson said. "This painting is a tribute to the struggle for freedom from all forms of discrimination, and Nelson’s very prominent role as a leader in the anti-apartheid movement.”

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