Born in 1918, he became a militant anti-apartheid activist, co-founding the armed wing of the African National Congress - leading to his arrest and imprisonment in 1962.
Finally released 27 years later, he led South Africa to democracy in 1994. He became the country's president and - just as important - a vital part of the search for truth and reconciliation.
From the Spice Girls to Michael Jackson, many a celeb has flocked to his side to have some of that stardust rub off on them. As we celebrate his 94th birthday today, here are some of the best snaps.
Copyright: PA Images John Stillwell/PA Archive