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Nelson Mandela and Michelle Obama
AP Photo/Nelson Mandela Foundation
With Michelle Obama, 2011

Photos: Nelson Mandela’s story through his encounters with celebrities and leaders

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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.

1990

Released from prison in February

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
Ted Kennedy
AP Photo/Peter Southwick
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
AP Photo/Doug Mills
George H. W. Bush
AP Photo/Cleaver
Margaret Thatcher
Frederick Watkins, Jr. / AP
Jesse Jackson

1991

AP Photo/Gill Allen
A wax double at Madame Tussaud’s

1992

1993

1994

Elected president of South Africa in April

REUTERS/Juda Ngwenya
Whitney Houston

1995

AP Photo/John Moore
Pope John Paul II

1996

AP Photo / Sasa Kralj
Sidney Poitier
REUTERS
Michael Jackson
AP Photo/Sasa Kralj
The Dalai Lama
REUTERS
Tony Blair

1997

REUTERS
Bill Cosby
REUTERS
Princess Diana
REUTERS
Barney
REUTERS
Evander Holyfield
REUTERS
Prince Charles, Scary Spice, and Ginger Spice

1998

REUTERS
Bill Clinton
REUTERS
Diana Ross
REUTERS
Queen Elizabeth II
REUTERS
Stevie Wonder
REUTERS
Fidel Castro
REUTERS
Tiger Woods

1999

Leaves office in June

REUTERS
Boris Yeltsin
REUTERS
Muammar Gaddafi
REUTERS
Bill Gates

2000

2001

REUTERS
Lennox Lewis
REUTERS
Naomi Campbell
REUTERS
Arnold Schwarzenegger

2002

REUTERS/Mike Segar
Michael Bloomberg, Robert De Niro, Hugh Grant
REUTERS/Juda Ngwenya
Bono
REUTERS/Juda Ngwenya
Oprah Winfrey

2003

REUTERS/Juda Ngwenya
David Beckham
REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
Beyonce Knowles

2004

REUTERS/Juda Ngwenya
Don King
REUTERS/Juda Ngwenya
Will Smith
REUTERS/Matt Dunham
Annie Lennox and Yusuf Islam

2005

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
George W. Bush

2006

AP Photo/Russel Roberts
The Black Eyed Peas

2007

2008

AP Images
Oscar Pistorius

2009

2010

2011

AP / Nelson Mandela Foundation
Michelle Obama

2012

REUTERS/Jacquelyn Martin
Hillary Clinton

2013

Dies in a hospital in Pretoria, South Africa