Oprah Winfrey considered Nelson Mandela her friend, mentor and inspiration.
After the former South African president and activist died on Thursday at age 95, Winfrey expressed her feelings about the man later that day in a statement.
“One of the great honors of my life was to be invited to Nelson Mandela’s home, spend private time and get to know him,” she said. “He was everything you’ve ever heard and more – humble and unscathed by bitterness. And he always loved to tell a good joke. Being in his presence was like sitting with grace and majesty at the same time.”
She continued, “He will always be my hero. His life was a gift to us all.”
Winfrey and her longtime partner, businessman Stedman Graham, were invited to stay at Mandela’s home on South Africa’s Western Cape in 2000 for 10 days.
The 59-year-old Oprah Winfrey Network founder and CEO told Forbes that she credits her discussions with Mandela about the country’s poverty and education for inspiring her to create Oprah Winfrey‘s Leadership Academy For Girls in Henley on Klip, south of Johannesburg.
The all-female boarding school was founded in January 2007 with the goal of providing educational and leadership opportunities to academically gifted girls from impoverished backgrounds.
Mandela appeared several times on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” And in honor of Mandela, OWN is airing Winfrey’s historic interview with the world leader from 2000 on Sunday, Dec. 8/7c.
Watch a special message from Winfrey below.