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How Nelson Mandela Nearly Caused Will Smith to Quit Acting and 5 Other Ways the Late Revolutionary Impacted Celebrities

July 18, 2019 would have been anti-apartheid revolutionary leader president Nelson Mandela’s 101st birthday. While the former South African president died at age 95 after suffering from an respiratory infection in 2013, he’s influenced many celebrities both during and after his life.

In honor of Mandela’s birthday, below are six celebrities who took the lessons of Madiba, which the Nelson Mandela Foundation explained is a moniker deeper than a surname that comes from a chief who ruled in the 18th century, that have been profoundly impacted by the African National Congress leader.

Mandela Nearly Made Will Smith Give Up Acting

Nelson Mandela and Will Smith at the 46664 Celebrity Golf Tournament following the charity concert, “46664 South Africa,” at the Fancourt Hotel & Country Club on March 20, 2005 in George, South Africa. The event was to raise awareness of the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, as well as raise funds for South Africa, with proceeds going to the Nelson Mandela Foundation. The number ‘46664’ represents Mandela’s prison number during the decades he was imprisoned in South Africa’s Robben Island prison. (Photo: Dave Benett/Getty Images)

Blockbuster actor Will Smith met with Madiba in 2004 and told reporters he would “humbly, gratefully and aggressively” accept Manelda’s invite for him to serve as a global ambassador for the push to fight AIDS — and he’d be willing to ditch acting to do it.

“It’s a huge honor,” Smith said of Mandela before discussing meeting him four years earlier. “I was so inspired. You want to immediately quit your job, you wanna go out in the streets, you wanna fight! He said, ‘no, you have to understand the hope that is created by the work that you create.’ He told me not to force it, that the call would speak to me. Today, the call has spoken to me.”

Oprah Winfrey’s Girls School Wouldn’t Have Come to Pass Without Mandela

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey broke ground on the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy For Girls in South Africa back in 2002 thanks in part to Mandela. When the former talk show host told him over tea years before that she wanted to open a girls school on the continent one day, Mandela immediately called then-Minister of Education Kader Asmal. The school ultimately opened its doors in 2007, and five years had passed before she promised the political leader she’d attend the graduation of every girl who was in her first set of classes at the institution, Forbes reported.

“I’ve had no regrets about not having children of my own,” she told the publication. “These are my girls, and I watch like a proud mother when they cross that stage.”

Naomi Campbell Would Nix Modeling Gigs Just to See the Man She Called Grandpa

nelson mandela

Naomi Campbell‘s relationship with Mandela went so deep she’d jump on a plane to see him no matter what else she had going on.

“He was very humble. Very kind, gentle speaking, very intuitive and very perceptive,” the supermodel said ahead of Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 of the influence of Mandela, whom she called “Tata,” on her. “Sometimes I’d be in New York City and he would call me and he would be like, ‘Get on the plane an come to South Africa.’ And I never would say, ‘No I can’t because I have this job and that job.’ Whatever I had, I would cancel it and I would make the time and I would go, because he was right.”

She added that the pair started a 20-year grandfather-granddaughter relationship that “I hold dearly to my heart and learn from each day.”

Beyoncé Learned That the Impossible Can’t Halt Little Moves to Make Big Transformations in the World

Mandela helped Beyoncé realize how to make a positive change just by looking past what may seem impossible

“You made it possible for so many people like me to reject impossibilities and understand our capabilities in making lasting change in the world,” Beyoncé wrote in a letter prior to the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 in 2018. “The smallest efforts could change the trajectory for so many living in extreme poverty, facing injustices, the indecency of racism and fighting for their rights as humans.”

“Your work and your sacrifices were not in vain,” she concluded. “I will cherish every moment shared in your presence and use the lessons learned from you as fuel to stir positive ideas and solutions.”

Stevie Wonder Learned What Forgiveness Means from Madiba

South African President Nelson Mandela embraces Stevie Wonder in Pretoria at the presidential residence in 1998. Mandela praised Wonder for his involvement in anti-apartheid activities when the African National Congress was still a banned organization in South Africa. (Photo: Walter Dhladhla/AFP/Getty Images)

Standing next to Mandela at the president’s home in Pretoria, South Africa, in 1996, Stevie Wonder remarked on how the politician was an example for peace and understanding.

“It is a great moment of my life to be standing next to a man who has exemplified to the fullest how and what peace and what unity and what forgiving and having the biggest of hearts is all about,” Wonder said.

“Steve Wonder is my son,” Mandela said at the same event. “And I speak to him with great affection.”

Lennox Lewis

World heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis reflected on Mandela’s death in 2013, and in his statement, he opened up about the late leader’s being the benchmark for having courage and pride even when the odds are stacked against him.

“He lived a life of example through his dedication, commitment and unwavering love, not only for his brothers and sisters in South Africa but for the entire human race,” Lewis stated. “He will forever remain THE blueprint of strength, grace and dignity, in both, the face of oppression and the privilege of power. I have very rarely, if ever, witnessed strength and compassion on his level. His legacy will continue to help shape the world for many generations to come.”

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