U.S. President Barack Obama has joined movie stars like Whoopi Goldberg, Samuel L. Jackson and Charlize Theron in paying tribute to the late, great Nelson Mandela following his death at the age of 95. South African President Jacob Zuma confirmed the sad news of the civil rights icon's death just before midnight local time on Thursday night (05Dec13) - not long after acclaimed new biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom premiered in London, with Prince William and his wife, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and members of Mandela's family in attendance.
The former president, who was affectionately known as Madiba, had battled health issues in recent years, including a recurring lung infection that led to numerous hospitalisations.
Announcing the tragic news, President Zuma said, "He passed on peacefully in the company of his family... He is now resting. He is now at peace. Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father."
Zuma ordered all flags across the nation to be flown at half-mast from Friday (06Dec13) until Mandela is laid to rest at a state funeral.
Shortly after news of Mandela's death broke, President Obama held a press conference at the White House to deliver a touching tribute, stating, "He achieved more than could be expected of any man and today he has gone home."
He added, "We have lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth. He no longer belongs to us; he belongs to the ages."
Obama's predecessor George W. Bush added, "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. This good man will be missed, but his contributions will live on forever."
British actor Idris Elba, who portrays Mandela in new movie Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom offered up a statement after hearing the sad news during the London premiere after party. It reads: "What an honour it was to step into the shoes of Nelson Mandela and portray a man who defied odds, broke down barriers, and championed human rights before the eyes of the world. My thoughts and prayers are with his family."
Meanwhile, South African actress Charlize Theron became one of the first celebrities to remember the legendary activist online, tweeting, "My thoughts and love go out to the Mandela family. Rest in Peace Madiba. You will be missed, but your impact on this world will live forever".
Ghost star Goldberg added, "I want 2give (sic) the world a hug I was told Mandeba (sic) just passed. Nelson Mandela R.I.P. Time for a well earned sleep.Condolences to his family", while Samuel L. Jackson posted, "Never met a better person in my life than Nelson Mandela. My sympathy to his family & his country".
Actor William Shatner, John Legend, Fergie, former boxer Mike Tyson, Bette Midler, Kelly Osbourne, filmmaker Michael Moore, Olivia Wilde, Rihanna, LL Cool J, Russell Simmons, Gabrielle Union, Gene Simmons, former Spice Girls star Mel C, Ricky Martin, Jermaine Jackson, Channing Tatum and Tony Bennett were also among the celebrities who flooded Twitter with tributes to Mandela on Thursday.
And sports legend Muhammad Ali released a statement which reads: "I am deeply saddened by the passing of Mr. Mandela. His was a life filled with purpose and hope; hope for himself, his country and the world."