Hollywood actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, right, and former South African President Nelson Mandela prepare to light a torch on Robben Island, off Cape Town,
Hollywood actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, right, and former South African President Nelson Mandela prepare to light a torch on Robben Island, off Cape Town, South Africa, Thursday, July 12, 2001, to promote the Special Olympics. The promotion is part of a drive by the Special Olympics to recruit additional African athletes. (AP Photo/Peter Baeurmeister)

There's nothing Hollywood loves more than a hero, and when one is both associated with a righteous cause and the establishment of peace like Nelson Mandela was, the movies couldn't make up anything better.

“Today the world lost one of the true giants of the past century,” said Morgan Freeman, who played Mandela in the 2009 Clint Eastwood movie “Invictus,” in a statement Thursday. “Nelson Mandela was a man of incomparable honor, unconquerable strength, and unyielding resolve — a saint to many, a hero to all who treasure liberty, freedom and the dignity of humankind. As we remember his triumphs, let us, in his memory, not just reflect on how far we've come, but on how far we have to go. Madiba may no longer be with us, but his journey continues on with me and with all of us.” (Madiba is Mandela's clan name.)

 

Over the years the South African leader, who died Thursday at age 95, has appeared in more than 55 documentaries (political, historical, concert films and more).

He's been portrayed by more than a dozen actors, including Idris Elba in the just-released feature adaptation of his autobiography “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”; Terrence Howard (“Winnie Mandela” from earlier this year); “Homeland's” David Harewood (“Mrs. Mandela” 2010): Freeman; Clarke Peters (“Endgame” 2009); Dennis Haysbert (“Goodbye Bafana”/”The Color of Freedom” 2007); Sidney Poitier (“Mandela and de Klerk” 1997); and Danny Glover (1987 TV movie “Mandela”).

 

Mandela even played a teacher himself in a brief scene in Spike Lee's 1992 biopic of “Malcolm X.”

Naturally, many in the entertainment industry who knew, played or were inspired by Mandela expressed appreciation and grief upon hearing of his passing.

“One of the privileges of making movies is having the opportunity to immortalize those who have made a profound impact on humanity,” said a statement issued by The Weinstein Company co-chairman Harvey Weinstein, who released “Long Walk to Freedom.”

Former South African President Nelson Mandela, left, with South African-born best actress Oscar winner Charlize Theron, during a photo opportunity in
Former South African President Nelson Mandela, left, with South African-born best actress Oscar winner Charlize Theron, during a photo opportunity in Johannesburg Thursday March 11, 2004. Mandela hailed Theron for her hard work and success in Hollywood. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

“We count ourselves unspeakably fortunate to have been immersed in Nelson Mandela's story and legacy,” Weinstein continued. “It's been an honor to have been granted such proximity to a man who will go down as one of history's greatest freedom fighters and advocates for justice. I have had the privilege of spending time with President Mandela and I can say his sense of humor was as great as his optimism. We are deeply saddened by his loss; our hearts go out to his family and the entire South African nation.”

 

In another statement, “Long Walk's” Elba said “What an honor 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.”

In an interview with the Daily News earlier this year, British-born son of African parents Elba said of the man he'd recently played, “He's a saint among some in our generation. It goes without saying that I was just very proud to be asked to be a part of this, his story; very much so.”

 

Neill Blomkamp, a white South African filmmaker (“District 9,” “Elysium”), said “For someone who went through what he went through, to come out of it with a sense of trying to create peace and to not react in the way that, if I was in his position, even I would have reacted, takes a very special type of person. It is incredible how he dealt with the situation that was handed to him, and how ethically and morally he didn't turn on the country and the white people.”

Still of Morgan Freeman in Invictus (2009)
Still of Morgan Freeman in Invictus (2009)

South African actor Sharlto Copley, who frequently appears in Blomkamp's films, echoed the director's sentiments.

 

“He represents for me the generation of leaders that were involved in changing our country and being able to perform the miraculous, peaceful transition to democracy that South Africa underwent,” Copley said. “He's the figurehead, but he's essentially somebody that I wish there were more of, if that makes sense. I would hope that he would inspire more young leaders in South Africa to take his example. That's my hope for the future; it's kind of like the legacy of the man can only survive if other men stand up and carry the same flag that he was waving.”

 

Others who issued statements upon hearing of Mandela's death included actor Samuel L. Jackson (“I've never met a better person in my life than Nelson Mandela.  My sympathy to his family and his country.”); Jennifer Hudson, who played the title role in “Winnie Mandela” (“The Mandela family is in my thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. Mr. Mandela fought for freedoms and equality that changed the face of South Africa and the world. We can all learn from his extraordinary journey.”); and singer/songwriter Paul Simon (“Mandela was one of the great leaders and teachers of the twentieth century.  He conceived a model for mortal enemies to overcome their hatred and find a way through compassion to rebuild a nation based on truth, justice and the power of forgiveness. His passing should reignite a worldwide effort for peace.”)

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