Nelson Mandela charmed the world ever since he re-emerged, after 27 years in prison, onto the global stage.
Without bitterness at those who had locked him up for so long, he spearheaded South Africa's transition from apartheid regime to multi-racial democracy.
He was seen by many around the world as a symbol of resolve and reconciliation for his sacrifice in confinement, as well as his peace-making efforts during that tense transition.
Prior to his release the nation's all-white rulers - who'd oppressed the black majority by dictating where they could live and work - faced mounting opposition at home and abroad.
The country stood on the cusp of civil war.
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But it was Mandela's statesman-like behaviour, and his willingness to engage with his former tormentors, which ensured a largely bloodless transition.
He was the right man in the right place at the right time - a protester who became a prisoner who became an outstanding leader.
But things may been so very different had he not fled an arranged marriage, and a promised life of relative luxury, aged 23.
Born Rolihlahla Mandela in Mvezo, Transkei, 1918, he was given his "Christian" name of Nelson by a teacher.
Aged nine his father, a Thembu royal family counsellor, died and he was put in the care of the acting regent chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo.
Shunning an easy existence, Madiba (the tribal name he is called by many) ran away in 1941 before his upcoming nuptials.
In Johannesburg, and with a growing passion for politics, he studied law and started his own practice.
It was as a young activist that he married his first wife, Evelyn Mase, in 1944.
The couple, who had four children, later divorced in 1958.
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With Oliver Tambo, a fellow African National Congress (ANC) member, he campaigned against the regime but was tried for high treason in 1956.
The charges were eventually dropped after a four-year trial collapsed.
It was then that Mandela married for a second time - a union that coincided largely with the years he spent locked up at the hands of the apartheid regime.
In 1958 he walked down the aisle with Winnie Madikizela, who stood by his side and actively fought to free him from prison.
But the couple, who had two children, split up in 1992 on the grounds of her adultery. She was also later convicted of kidnapping.
In 1960, with the banning of the ANC, Mandela continued to protest. Soon after, police shot dead 69 black people in the Sharpeville Massacre.
In response Mandela, who was by then ANC vice president, instigated a campaign of "economic sabotage". He was charged with trying to violently overthrow the government.
Speaking during his trial, he revealed his dreams for a democratic, free and equal South Africa.
But it made no difference. He was jailed, in the winter of 1964, for life.
Under lock and key on Robben Island for 18 years, and then Pollsmoor Prison from 1982, Mandela was even banned from attending his mother and eldest son's funerals.
While at Robben Island (Seal Island in Dutch), off the coast of Cape Town, he and other prisoners spent part of the time working in a stone quarry.
He contracted tuberculosis as he languished in his cell, and has been vulnerable to respiratory problems ever since.
But he kept his dream of a democratic South Africa alive - smuggling notes containing words of encouragement out to supporters.
Then, in 1980, Tambo - now exiled leader of the ANC - called for Mandela's release as the focus of an international campaign to end the apartheid.
The noose of sanctions - introduced in 1967 - tightened. Tensions rose.
President FW de Klerk, fearing civil war, lifted the ANC ban and on February 11, 1990, Mandela walked free. The two men started talks on forming a new democracy.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission - where victims and villains could speak, some with amnesty, about the past - was hailed as crucial to healing the nation's pain.
The pair won the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1993 and, five months later, held the first truly democratic all-race general election. Mandela won by a landslide.
Delegating the day-to-day running of the country to deputy Thabo Mbeki, Mandela set about repairing its tarnished reputation.
Encouraging corporations to invest, he led peace talks across the African continent - most notably in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi - and beyond.
His third marriage, to Graca Machel - the widow of the former Mozambican President Samora Machel- came on his 80th birthday in 1998 as he entered his role of world statesman.
Stepping down as President in 1999, he continuing promoting his global message, only officially retiring from public life in 2004.
Despite claiming to want to spend time with family, he campaigned against HIV/Aids, a highly personal issue following the death of his son Makgatho from the disease in 2005.
On his 89th birthday he formed "The Elders," a group of world figures who offer expertise and guidance.
And he was also key in bringing the 2010 football World Cup to South Africa.
But an advancing age and deteriorating health meant that, in the past few years, his appearances became less frequent.
He had been receiving medical treatment for the last three years and for the last six months has been critically ill.
On 5 December 2013, he died.