NEW YORK (AP) — Maya Angelou, who first met Nelson Mandela in the early 1960s, praised him as a great man worthy of comparison to another icon she knew, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
"Our planet has lost a friend," the author and poet said Friday during a telephone interview.
Angelou was a journalist in Egypt, living with South African activist Vusumzi Make, when Mandela visited them. She remembered him as handsome and funny and unusually generous with compliments, able to get along with the varying groups of political opponents to South Africa's apartheid regime.
Mandela was imprisoned in 1964, but their friendship resumed in the 1990s after his release, she said.
"He was kind to everybody," she said.
The U.S. Department of State later Friday released a video of Angelou reciting a new poem, "His Day is Done," in which she mourned Mandela's death, praised him as a modern Gideon and, in one passage, marveled at his endurance of racism and imprisonment:
Would the man survive?
Could the man survive?
His answer strengthened men and women around the world.
Angelou learned of Mandela's death Thursday just hours after she heard of another friend's passing.
"This is a very heavy time," she said sadly during her phone interview. "A giant has fallen."