“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American,” the family added.
Powell, born on April 5, 1937, in Harlem, New York, was raised by Jamaican immigrant parents in the South Bronx.
Following a decorated military career that included tours in Vietnam, Powell held key military and diplomatic positions throughout government, serving under both Democratic and Republican presidents.
Former President George W. Bush, who tapped Powell to serve as his Secretary of State, said he was “deeply saddened” by the military leader’s death.
“Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of Colin Powell. He was a great public servant, starting with his time as a soldier during Vietnam. Many Presidents relied on General Powell’s counsel and experience,” Bush said in a statement.
“He was National Security Adviser under President Reagan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under my father and President Clinton, and Secretary of State during my Administration. He was such a favorite of Presidents that he earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom – twice. He was highly respected at home and abroad. And most important, Colin was a family man and a friend. Laura and I send Alma and their children our sincere condolences as they remember the life of a great man,” he added.
Powell first joined the Reagan administration in 1987 as national security adviser, becoming the first Black individual to serve in the role.
He later transitioned to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1989, a position he held for four years serving under former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Calls for Powell to wage a presidential bid ramped up ahead of the 1996 election following the U.S.-led coalition’s win in the Gulf War. The military figure ultimately passed on a campaign of his own, concluding that he did not have a “passion” for elected politics.
“Such a life requires a calling that I do not yet hear,” Powell told reporters in 1995. “And for me to pretend otherwise would not be honest to myself, it would not be honest to the American people.”
The four-star general reentered the political sphere in 2001 when he was tapped by President George W. Bush to serve as Secretary of State, breaking another barrier and becoming the first Black American to serve in the role.
He served in the post until 2005.
Powell led the U.S. on the diplomatic front in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, helping to ramp up support among other countries for the War on Terror and the War in Afghanistan.
The secretary also faced criticism for his push for military intervention in Iraq in 2003.
In a speech before the United Nations in February 2003 Powell showed evidence with U.S. intelligence that he said illustrated that the Iraqi military was misleading inspectors and concealing weapons of mass destruction.
“There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more,” Powell said in his speech.
Inspectors, however, later said that weapons of mass destruction did not exist in Iraq.
In 2005, two years after Powell’s speech before the U.N., a government report concluded that the intelligence community was “dead wrong” in its claim that Iraq was holding weapons of mass destruction prior to the U.S.’s invasion.
Powell later said his speech before the U.N. was a “blot” in his record and recognized that it would be a part of his legacy, adding that he regretted delivering the remarks.
“I regret it now because the information was wrong — of course I do,” Powell told CNN’s Larry King in November 2010. “But I will always be seen as the one who made the case before the international community.”
“I swayed public opinion, there’s no question about it,” he added.
In his memoir “It Worked for Me,” published in 2012, Powell again discussed the speech, writing that “the event will earn a prominent paragraph in my obituary,” according to CNN.
Powell studied at the City College of New York, where he was a participant in ROTC.
After graduating in 1958 Powell joined the U.S. Army and deployed to South Vietnam twice in the 1960s, where he was wounded twice.
Powell waded into the political arena during the Trump era, announcing after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol that he no longer considered himself a Republican.
Asked by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria if he believes “fellow Republicans” who have not criticized former President Trump “encouraged, at least, this wildness to grow and grow,” Powell said “they did, and that’s why I can no longer call myself a Republican.”
“I’m not a fellow of anything right now. I’m just a citizen who has voted Republican, voted Democrat throughout my entire career, and right now I’m just watching my country and not concerned with parties,” he said.
“I do not know how he was able to attract all of these people. They should have known better, but they were so taken by their political standing and how none of them wanted to put themselves at political risk. They would not stand up and tell the truth or stand up and criticize him, or criticize others,” he added.
Powell endorsed then-candidate Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.