Anthony Sampson, a British writer and journalist who became a close friend and biographer of Nelson Mandela, died Dec. 18 of a heart attack at his home in Wiltshire, England. He was 78.
After completing Oxford University in 1950, Mr. Sampson made his way to South Africa, where he became editor of Drum, an anti-apartheid magazine in Johannesburg. He got to know several leaders of the African National Congress, including Steve Biko and Mandela.
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The man who became South Africa's first black president chose Mr. Sampson to write his biography after his 26-year prison term, from 1964 to 1990. "Mandela: The Authorized Biography" was published in 1999.
"He cared about Africa in a way that is rare among those from the developed world, and he never stopped caring," Mandela told the British newspaper the Independent on Monday. "I knew that in his hands our cause would be reported justly."
Mr. Sampson also wrote a landmark 1963 book about the British establishment, "The Anatomy of Britain," which was updated several times and republished under the title, "Who Runs This Place?" (2004). Other books included the prize-winning "The Seven Sisters" (1975), an investigation of the world's major oil companies; "The Arms Bazaar" (1978); "Black & Gold: Tycoons, Revolutionaries and Apartheid" (1987); and a family history, "The Scholar Gypsy" (1997).
Mr. Sampson, who as born in Durham, England, served in the British Royal Navy from 1945 to 1947 and received a degree in English from Christ Church, Oxford. During his four years as editor of Drum, the weekly became a major outlet for black literary and political voices in South Africa just as those voices were becoming a powerful and insistent chorus for change.
He met Mandela during that period and considered Mandela a charming political lightweight. "He was very imposing but, I thought too much of a showman," he told the Independent.
After Mandela's arrest in 1962, Mr. Sampson had no doubt that the young ANC leader was not only "the real man of destiny" but also the "dramatic personification of his people."
In 1955, Mr. Sampson returned to England, where he joined the staff of the Observer, with frequent assignments in South Africa. Curious about the "white tribes" of ruling-class Britain, his "Anatomy of Britain" marked the first time in the postwar years that the British were compelled to look at themselves, and it appeared at an opportune moment. The country was changing dramatically, as the advent of the Beatles would soon symbolize.
Mr. Sampson retired from daily journalism in the late 1960s to write books.
His biography of Mandela was an authorized account, in that Mandela gave him total access to documents and private papers and also reviewed the manuscript, although he made no effort to alter the author's conclusions.
His purpose in retelling the Mandela legend, Mr. Sampson explained, was to get beneath and beyond it. "The myth is so powerful that it blurs the realities, turning everything into show business," he wrote.
Reviewing the book in The Washington Post, Glenn Frankel concluded that Mr. Sampson had indeed brought to life "the flesh-and-blood man who emerged from prison not trapped in the past but rather, as Nadine Gordimer put it, the 'personification of the future.' "
For many years, Mr. Sampson wrote a weekly column for the Independent on such topics as AIDS, the war in Iraq and President Bush. His final column, warning that civil liberties in Britain were being eroded, was published the day he died.
Survivors include his wife, Sally, of West London and Wiltshire, a daughter and son; and two grandchildren.