He increasingly left the governing to Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, who took over when Mandela's term ended in June 1999 and he declined to seek another — a rarity among African presidents.
"I must step down while there are one or two people who admire me," Mandela joked at the time. When he retired, he said he was going to stand on a street with a sign that said: "Unemployed, no job. New wife and large family to support."
His marriage to Winnie had fallen apart after his release and he was now married to Graca Machel, the widowed former first lady of neighboring Mozambique.
He is survived by Machel; his daughter Makaziwe by his first marriage, and daughters Zindzi and Zenani by his second.
Donna Bryson, former AP bureau chief in Johannesburg, contributed to this report. Marcus Eliason has worked for the AP in South Africa and is now stationed in New York.