President Barack Obama paid an emotional tribute to his personal hero Nelson Mandela tonight, saying he could not imagine life without the former South African President.
Speaking shortly after the death of the civil rights leader was announced, Mr Obama said now is the time for people to pause and honor the fact 'that Nelson Mandela lived.
He said: 'Like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my life without the example that Nelson Mandela set.'
'He no longer belongs to us - he belongs to the ages,' Mr Obama said from the White House briefing room.
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My inspiration: 'Like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my life without the example that Nelson Mandela set,' Mr Obama said
'Madiba transformed South Africa and moved all of us- his journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that humans can transform for the better.'
Gone: Mandela died today at the age of 95. His health took a turn earlier this summer
'He achieved more than could be expected for any man and today he's gone home.'
Mr Obama visited South Africa in June and met with the former president's family but did not personally meet with the ailing leader because his health was so poor at the time.
Mr Obama previously had a personal meeting when he was just a senator.
He said that the very first political action in his life, let alone his career, was his participation in an anti-apartheid rally held in Mandela's honor.
'We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again, so it falls to us' to live by his example and 'make decisions not by hate but by love,' Mr Obama said in the press conference.
He said that the thoughts and prayers of the first family and the American people were with Mr Mandela's family.
'His life's work meant long days away from those who loved him most,' saying that he hoped they were able to value the last few months together.
According to the White House, Mr Obama is expected to fly to Africa tonight to attend Mandela's state funeral along with other world leaders.
Mandela died after his health took a turn earlier this summer. He was 95 years old.
The Obama girls meet Mandela: Mrs Obama and her daughters met with Mandela on the first lady's first solo trip to Africa in June 2011
Visiting the jail: During a tour of Africa this summer, Mr Obama and his family visited Robben Island where Mandela spent decades as a political prisoner
Former South African president F.W. de Klerk, who was the last white president of the country before Mandela came to power, had nothing but praise for the 'father' of the country.
'He made reconciliation happen in South Africa,' Mr de Klerk told CNN
'There was an immediate I would say a spark between the two of us.
'I always respected him and I always liked him as a person he was a magnanimous person, he was a compassionate person.
Mandela's South African comrade Desmond Tutu, the first black Archbishop of Cape Town, wrote an article on his friend's passing, saying that the world was a better place because of Mandela.
'He was not only an amazing gift to humankind, he made South Africans and Africans feel good about being who we are. He made us walk tall,' Mr Tutu said.
Echoing Mr Obama's speech, all of the living U.S. presidents made statements of their own about Mandela.
Bill Clinton, who met with Mandela on a number of occasions and grew close with the elderly leader, released a statement on behalf of his family.
Pride of the world: Former President Bill Clinton visited an ailing Mandela earlier this year. The two are pictured above with former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair at Westminster Hall in July 2003
'Today the world has lost one of its most important leaders and one of the finest human beings,' who was 'a champion for human dignity'.
'He proved that there is freedom in forgiving, that a free heart is bigger than a closed mind.'
Mr Mandela came to America to attend President Clinton's inauguration in 1994 and Mr Clinton visited the ailing leader earlier this year.
Madeline Albright, Clinton's secretary of state, issued a statement of her own saying Mandela 'taught us all that forgiveness is stronger than hate. The best way to honor his passing is to follow his example'.
Both Bush presidents reacted to the death of the African leader.
A force for equality: Former President George W Bush was one of the first to issue a public statement following Nelson Mandela's death earlier this evening. Above, the two world leaders meeting at the White House in May 2005
'President Mandela was one of the great forces for freedom and equality of our time. He bore his burdens with dignity and grace, and our world is better off because of his example,' George W Bush
Courageous: George H W Bush called Mandela a man of 'tremendous moral courage'
said. 'This good man will be missed, but his contributions will live on forever. Laura and I send our heartfelt sympathy to President Mandela’s family and to the citizens of the nation he loved.'
His father, George H W Bush, called Mandela 'one of the greatest believers in freedom'.
'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. He was a man of tremendous moral courage, who changed the course of history in his country,' Mr Bush said.
President Jimmy Carter mirrored Bush's sentiment, saying '[Mandela's] passion for freedom and justice created new hope for generations of oppressed people worldwide.'
British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted that the flag at No 10 Downing Street would be flown at half-mast.
'A great light has gone out in the world,' Mr Cameron said. 'Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time.'
Ed Miliband also released a statement, drawing on their political connections.
'During the struggle against apartheid, the Labour party was proud to stand with the people of South Africa in solidarity. Today we stand with the people of South Africa in mourning,' he said in his statement.
'He moved the world and the world will miss him deeply.'
'A great light has gone out': Prime Minster Cameron is pictured meeting with Mandela in August 2006 in Johannesburg, South Africa
Turning 90: Mr Cameron met with Mandela again when Madiba visited London in July 2008 to celebrate his 90th birthday
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair told how they forged a special bond during his first years leading Britain, saying how he treasures the memory of the first time they talked in 1997.
'He was an extraordinary father figure... to me as a new prime minister,' Mr Blair said. 'He was a complete inspiration.'
'What he really did was he managed to create a situation in which people overcame past differences and conflicts that they had for many many decades and even generations.'
UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon tweeted that he would never forget Mandela's 'selflessness and deep sense of shared purpose'.
The timing of the legendary leader's death was particularly poignant for Prince William and Duchess Catherine as they were at the London premiere of the new Mandela film alongside two of Madiba's daughters.
After the movie let out, the Prince released a brief statement saying that the film refreshed their memory of how important his work in South Africa was.
Coincidence: Duchess Catherine and Prince William attended a screening for a movie about Mandela's life tonight with two of his daughters, before hearing that the leader had passed
Mandela's daughters: Prince William, Duke of Cambridge meets Zindzi Mandela (right), daughter of former South African president Nelson Mandela
Memorial: Tributes were laid at Mandela's statue in Parliament Square tonight following news that he had died
'I just wanted to say it's extremely sad and tragic news,' Prince William said after leaving the Leicester Square cinema.
'We were just reminded what an extraordinary and inspiring man Nelson Mandela was. My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. It's very sad.
Mandela's loss was felt outside the world of politics as well with celebrities like Muhammad Ali and Bill Gates paying tribute to the African leader.
'Every time Melinda and I met Nelson Mandela, we left more inspired than ever. His grace and courage changed the world....' Gates said.
Muhammad Ali, a champion for civil rights himself, said he was 'deeply saddened' to hear about Madiba's passing.
Civil rights champions: Muhammed Ali meets with Mandela in Los Angeles in 1990
Mandela, the fighter: The South African leader pretends to punch Ali at a Global Youth Summit in Ireland in 2003
'What I will remember most about Mr Mandela is that he was a man whose heart, soul and spirit could not be contained or restrained by racial and economic injustices, metal bars or the burden of hate and revenge,' Ali said. 'He taught us forgiveness on a grand scale. His was a spirit born free, destined to soar above the rainbows. Today his spirit is soaring through the heavens. He is now forever free.'
Ali met with Mandela on several occasions, and the South African leader never shied away from pretending to punch the legendary boxer for a good photo.
Fellow champion boxer Mike Tyson tweeted about Mandela's passing while on a trip to Africa, saying Mandela was the 'embodiment of discipline, courage, love and forgiveness'.
Humanitarian and rock star Bono, front man of U2, posted an article on Time.com, marking Mandela's death.
In the article he compared Mandela's fight against apartheid in South Africa to the Catholic-Protestant tensions in his home country of Ireland.
Rock stars in their own right: Bono embraces Mandela at a concert in South Africa in November 2003. The two became friends over the years due to Bono's activist work
He said Mandela has been 'a big part of the Irish consciousness' and that 'Irish people related all too easily to the subjugation of ethnic majorities'.
'He was an idealist without naivete, a compromiser without being compromised,' Bono wrote.
Many who met Mandela, tweeted pictures of themselves with the legendary leader -including Larry King.
King said that Mandela was one of the most eloquent and classy people he had ever interviewed on his show.