Jan 13, 2014 10:01 PM EST
Nelson Mandela fame rests on his role as a revolutionary leader who spent nearly seven decades of his life in the struggle against white minority rule and for a free and democratic non-racial society. Here are 50 interesting facts about this revolutionary world leader.
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1. Nelson is not his real birth name. His parents named him Rolihlahla Dalibhuna Mandela, which in Xhosa means pulling the branch of a tree or troublemaker.
2. Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 in South Africa.
3. Nelson Mandela’s father had four wives who all lived in different villages. He was the youngest of his father’s sons.
4. Mandela came from royalty. His patrilineal great-grandfather was ruler of the Thembu people in South Africa’s modern Eastern Cape Province. His father was a local chief and counselor to the monarchs.
5. He grew up in a tiny village and was the first member of his family to attend school.
6. The name "Nelson" was given to him by his teacher on his first day of elementary school in the 1920s. During that time in South Africa, African children were given English names so colonial masters could pronounce them easily.
7. His father passed away when Nelson was 12 years old. Afterwards, wealthy relatives had custody of him.
8. He attended Fort Hare Missionary College; however, he was expelled for organizing a strike against the white rule of the college.
9. He met Oliver Tambo, a great friend of his, at Fort Hare.
10. He studied law at the University of Witwatersrand.
11. In 1942, he joined the African National Congress.
12. Mandela's first wife, Evelyn Mase, was a nurse and Walter Sisulu's cousin. She supported Mandela while he studied law at Wits University and became further involved in politics. They had four children together and divorced in 1958.
13. He married Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in 1958. They had two children together but their marriage ended in divorce in 1996 due to political estrangement.
14. In 1962, he left the country to garner support for the armed struggle. During this time he received guerilla training in Morocco and Ethiopia.
15. Mandela made it a point to always arrive on time. He regarded lack of punctuality as a character flaw.
16. Mandela made his bed every morning.
17. Mandela was passionate about boxing, and he loved that the ring made "rank, age, color, and wealth irrelevant."
18. Mandela was a master of disguise and a genius at evading arrest. He was dubbed the Black Pimpernel for his legendary ability to escape capture. He frequently disguised himself as a fieldworker, a chauffeur, or a chef.
19. He was dressed in a chauffeur's outfit when he was finally arrested. In 1962, Mandela was finally apprehended while driving with fellow activist Cecil Williams. In his biography, he wrote: "At Cedara, a small town just past Howick, I noticed a Ford V-8 filled with white men shoot past us on the right … I knew in that instant that my life on the run was over with other ANC leaders of sabotage."
20. Mandela was arrested and tried in 1962 for conspiracy to overthrow the government and was sentenced to life in prison.
21. A courtroom speech about being ready to die helped save his life. Mandela's speech during his trial received international attention and was published as I Am Prepared to Die.
22. He served twenty seven years until an international campaign was established that lobbied for his successful release out of prison.
23. During his time locked-up, the apartheid government offered to release him on six earlier occasions but he rejected each time.
24. He began writing his memoir while in prison and buried the plastic wrapped pages in containers in a vegetable garden at the prison. The memoir was discovered when prison authorities began building a wall through the garden.
25. While in prison on Robben Island, Mandela and the other prisoners would communicate by leaving notes in discarded matchboxes, under piles of dirty dishes, and taped in toilet tanks.
26. Mandela was offered a chance to get out of prison — and declined, on principle. In 1985 South African President P.W. Botha offered Mandela his freedom if he would agree to renounce armed struggle.
27. He was released from prison on February 11, 1990, Mandela urged supporters to increase pressure on South Africa's white minority government, and called on the international community to maintain its sanctions.
28. After becoming the first black president of South Africa in 1994, many feared that South Africa would descend into civil war and that there would be mass acts of violent retribution. But President Mandela established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human-rights abuses under Apartheid and largely averted bloodshed.
29. He was the first president in South Africa elected by a democratic system.
30. He has six children (Madiba, Makaziwe, Makgatho, Makaziwe, Zenani, and Zindzi), and he also had 17 grandchildren.
31. He married his third and final wife, Graca Machel when he was 80 years old.
32. Nelson Mandela has a prehistoric woodpecker (Australopicus nelsonmandelai) named after him.
33. He also has a nuclear particle named after him. Leeds University honored him by naming the Mandela particle in 1973 .
34. He made a cameo appearance in Spike Lee’s 1992 biopic "Malcolm X." At the very end of the movie, he plays a teacher reciting Malcolm X's famous speech to a room full of Soweto school kids.
35. However, he refused to deliver a certain line of Lee's script. Mandela did not want to say the closing words "by any means necessary," so Spike Lee cut back to footage of Malcolm X saying it.
36. Mandela has an orchid (Paravanda Nelson Mandela) named after him.
37. He used sports to bring the racially divided country together. Mandela used the country’s love for rugby as a way to unite blacks and whites in the racially divided country.
38. Mandela shared the Nobel Peace Prize with FW de Klerk in 1993.
39. Mandela has received more than 250 awards, including honorary degrees from more than 50 universities worldwide.
40. In 2009, the United Nations declared that Nelson Mandela International Day will be celebrated every year on July 18 (his birthday). The purpose of the day is to honor Mandela's legacy and promote community service.
41. He is an honorary citizen of Canada.
42. Mandela is also an honorary member of Manchester United.
43. Mandela was recognized in the United States and Britain as being a terrorist. It wasn’t until 2008 did the United States officially removed Mandela from its terror list.
44. The fictional grandchildren of Cliff and Clair Huxtable from the popular television series, The Cosby Show were named Winnie and Nelson Tibideau after Nelson Mandela and his former wife.
45. Mandela’s chef published a cookbook of his favorite meals. Farm chicken, tripe and sour milk are some of his favorite things to eat.
46. Once he was finished with his presidency, he became an advocate in support of people suffering from AIDS.
47. His only son passed away due to AIDS.
48. Nelson Mandela was hospitalized for over a month in Pretoria, South Africa.
49. After suffering from a prolonged respiratory infection, Mandela died on December 5, 2013 at the age of 95.
50. Approximately 90 representatives of foreign states travelled to South Africa to attend memorial events.
His memorable characters include roles in Commando, Predator, Twins, Total Recall, True Lies, Eraser, Collateral Damage, Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines and a cameo in Sylvester Stallone's homage to action films, The Expendables and an expanded role in The Expendables 2, among others. Learn 50 facts about Arnold Schwarzenegger.