Former US secretary of state Colin Powell dies of Covid complications

Colin Powell, the first Black US secretary of state has died of Covid-19 related complications, his family said on Facebook. He was 84.

Powell had multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells that suppresses the body's immune response, as well as Parkinson's, Peggy Cifrino, Powell's longtime chief of staff, confirmed.

"We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American," the family said in a statement, thanking the staff at the Walter Reed Medical Center "for their caring treatment".

A highly decorated army officer, he became a trusted military adviser to a number of leading US politicians and helped swing international opinion behind the 2003 invasion of Iraq despite his own misgivings.

Though Powell never mounted a White House bid, when he was sworn in as Bush's secretary of state in 2001, he became the highest-ranking Black public official to date in the country, standing fourth in the presidential line of succession.

President Joe Biden, calling Powell a "dear friend", said he had embodied the "highest ideals of both warrior and diplomat".

Former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, tweeted that Powell "understood what was best in this country, and tried to bring his own life, career, and public statements in line with that ideal".

Former President Bush also paid tribute to "a great public servant" as well as "a family man and a friend" who "was such a favourite of presidents that he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom - twice".

Powell's successor as secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, called him "a truly great man" whose "devotion to the nation was not limited to the many great things he did while in uniform or during his time spent in Washington".

Who was Colin Powell?

Born in Harlem, New York City, in April 1937, Powell was the son of Jamaican immigrants.

His parents originally pronounced his name with a short "o" in the traditional English way, but he changed the pronunciation in honour of a US Army Air Corps pilot, Colin Kelly, who was killed shortly after Pearl Harbor.

He was, by his own admission, an average scholar who left high school with no positive career plans.

While studying geology at the City College of New York, he joined the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), a programme designed to identify future military leaders.

A trailblazing professional soldier, his career took him from combat duty in Vietnam to becoming the first Black national security adviser during the end of Ronald Reagan's presidency and the youngest and first African American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush - the youngest officer ever to hold the post, and the first from an African-American background.

He saw service and was wounded in Vietnam, an experience that later helped define his own military and political strategies.

After returning from Vietnam, Powell obtained an MBA at the George Washington University in Washington DC before securing a prestigious White House Fellowship under President Richard Nixon.

Seen as a rising star, he had a stint as lieutenant-colonel in South Korea before a move to the Pentagon as a staff officer.

His national popularity soared in the aftermath of the US-led coalition victory during the Gulf War, and for a time in the mid-90s, he was considered a leading contender to become the first Black President of the United States.

He left the army in 1993 and devoted time to writing his autobiography - it topped the New York Times best-seller list - and engaging in charity work.

Freed from his obligations as a serving officer, he began to involve himself in politics. With admirers in both main parties, he was favoured as a vice-presidential nominee for both Democrats and Republicans. He declared himself a Republican in 1995.

There was talk of him standing against Bill Clinton in the 1996 presidential election, but he decided he lacked the passion for a political career.

In 2000, George W Bush appointed Powell as secretary of state.

Later in his public life, Powell grew disillusioned with the Republican Party.

In 2008, he endorsed Barack Obama . He also supported Hillary Clinton's bid in 2016 and Joe Biden's in 2020. A sharp critic of Republican president Donald Trump, Powell said he could no longer call himself a Republican after the violent 6 January riot at the US Capitol.

Powell is survived by his wife, Alma, whom he married in 1962, as well as three children, Linda, Annemarie and Michael.