Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “Patriot Without Equal” Dead At 90

Archbishop Desmond Tutu
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(CNN)--Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Anglican cleric whose good humor, inspiring message and conscientious work for civil and human rights made him a revered leader during the struggle to end apartheid in his native South Africa, has died. He was 90.

In a statement confirming his death on Sunday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his condolences to Tutu's family and friends, calling him "a patriot without equal."  

"A man of extraordinary intellect, integrity and invincibility against the forces of apartheid, he was also tender and vulnerable in his compassion for those who had suffered oppression, injustice and violence under apartheid, and oppressed and downtrodden people around the world," Ramaphosa said.

Tutu had been in ill health for years. In 2013, he underwent tests for a persistent infection, and he was admitted to hospital several times in following years.

For six decades, Tutu -- known affectionately as "the Arch" -- was one of the primary voices in exhorting the South African government to end apartheid, the country's official policy of racial segregation. After apartheid ended in the early '90s and the long-imprisoned Nelson Mandela became president of the country, Tutu was named chair of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The Nelson Mandela foundation called Tutu's loss "immeasurable."

"He was larger than life, and for so many in South Africa and around the world his life has been a blessing," the foundation said in a statement. "His contributions to struggles against injustice, locally and globally, are matched only by the depth of his thinking about the making of liberatory futures for human societies."

Tutu's civil and human rights work led to prominent honors from around the world.

Former US President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. Obama called Tutu a "mentor, a friend, and a moral compass" in a statement after his death. Read more.

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