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Nelson Mandela With Michelle Obama, 2011 AP PHOTO/NELSON MANDELA FOUNDATION

After she met Nelson Mandela at his 91st birthday party in 2009, Alfre Woodard, an American actress, told New York Magazine that she “was just trembling; not with fear, just with joy and energy.” She added: “I think I was levitating.”
Woodard is hardly the only star for whom meeting Mandela, the legendary South African activist and president who died today, was like a rite of passage. In the 23 years after his release from prison in 1990, Mandela embraced or shook hands with countless celebrities and world leaders, and judging by the photos of some of those encounters, he was a deeply venerated man—an icon among icons.


Some of the figures that appear beside Mandela have since passed away; others have simply faded from the public consciousness; and still others have become notorious. Taken together, the images tell the history of Mandela’s political career through the people he met. Through it all, Mandela remains Mandela.

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Nelson Mandela with Ted Kennedy - AP PHOTO/CHARLES KRUPA

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Nelson Mandela with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis AP PHOTO/PETER SOUTHWICK


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Nelson Mandela with George H. W. Bush - AP PHOTO/DOUG MILLS

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Nelson Mandela with Margaret Thatcher -AP PHOTO/CLEAVER

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Nelson Mandela with Jesse Jackson FREDERICK WATKINS, JR. / AP


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A wax double at Madame Tussaud’s - AP PHOTO/GILL ALLEN

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Nelson Mandela with Whitney Houston - Photo by REUTERS/JUDA NGWENYA

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Nelson Mandela with Pope John Paul II - AP PHOTO/JOHN MOORE

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Nelson Mandela with Sidney Poitier - Photo by AP PHOTO / SASA KRALJ

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Nelson Mandela with Michael Jackson - Photo by REUTERS

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Nelson Mandela with The Dalai Lama - AP PHOTO/SASA KRALJ

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Nelson Mandela with Tony Blair - Photo by REUTERS

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Nelson Mandela with Bill Cosby - Photo by REUTERS

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Nelson Mandela with Princess Diana - Photo by REUTERS

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Nelson Mandela with Barney - Photo by REUTERS

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Nelson Mandela with Evander Holyfield - Photo by REUTERS

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Nelson Mandela with Prince Charles, Scary Spice, and Ginger Spice - Photo by REUTERS

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Nelson Mandela with Bill Clinton - Photo by REUTERS

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Nelson Mandela with Diana Ross - Photo by REUTERS

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Nelson Mandela with Queen Elizabeth II - Photo by REUTERS

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Nelson Mandela with Stevie Wonder - Photo by REUTERS

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Mandela with Fidel Castro- Photo by REUTERS

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Nelson Mandela with Tiger Woods - Photo by REUTERS

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Nelson Mandela with Boris Yeltsin -Photo by REUTERS

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Nelson Mandela with Muammar Gaddafi - Photo by REUTERS


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Nelson Mandela with Bill Gates - - Photo by REUTERS

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Nelson Mandela with Lennox Lewis - Photo by REUTERS

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Nelson Mandela with Naomi Campbell - Photo by REUTERS

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Nelson Mandela with Arnold Schwarzenegger - Photo by REUTERS

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Nelson Mandela with Michael Bloomberg, Robert De Niro, Hugh Grant -REUTERS/MIKE SEGAR

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Nelson Mandela with Bono- REUTERS/JUDA NGWENYA

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Nelson Mandela with Oprah Winfrey - REUTERS/JUDA NGWENYA

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Nelson Mandela with David Beckham - REUTERS/JUDA NGWENYA

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Nelson Mandela with Beyonce Knowles -REUTERS/MIKE HUTCHINGS

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Nelson Mandela with Don King - REUTERS/JUDA NGWENYA

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Nelson Mandela with Will Smith -REUTERS/JUDA NGWENYA


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Nelson Mandela with Annie Lennox and Yusuf Islam - REUTERS/MATT DUNHAM

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Nelson Mandela with George W. Bush- REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE

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Nelson Mandela with The Black Eyed Peas - AP PHOTO/RUSSEL ROBERTS

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Nelson Mandela with Oscar Pistorius

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Michelle Obama with Nelson Mandela - AP / NELSON MANDELA FOUNDATION

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Hillary Clinton with Nelson Mandela