He was 84.
Tributes to Powell poured in from around the world, from prime ministers to presidents, CBS2's Dick Brennan reported.
"He was one of our great military leaders and a man of overwhelming decency," President Joe Biden said.
"Colin Powell dedicated his public life to public service because he never stopped believing in America," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
"I lost a tremendous personal friend and mentor," Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin added.
Others who worked alongside him say he never lost his human touch. Former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman served with Powell in the Bush administration.
"He was an all-around gentleman and a strong leader, an inspiration really," Whitman said.
As Meg Oliver reported, when President George W. Bush appointed Powell as secretary of state, he became the highest ranking African American official in the history of the United States. His was a true American success story.
In 1958, Powell graduated from City College of New York, where he joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps and started his military service. The School for Civic and Global Leadership at CCNY bears his name.
After graduating from City College he took an Army commission and served in Vietnam. He rose in the ranks, becoming a general, and was appointed the head of the National Security Council by President Ronald Reagan.
More honors were to follow. During the next administration, President George H.W. Bush made Powell chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- the highest military position in the Defense Department. Again, Powell was the first African American to hold the post.
Operation Desert Storm in 1991 made Powell an even more familiar face.
"Our strategy to go after this army is very, very simple. First, we're going to cut it off, and then we're going to kill it," he said at the time.
When he retired from the Army, Powell wrote his autobiography and chaired America's Promise, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building character in young people. There was speculation he might run for president, but his wife, Alma, was against it.
Then Powell was called upon by George W. Bush.
"I am honored, honored to be given the opportunity to return to public service as the 65th secretary of state," Powell said at the time.
Though initially opposed to the idea, Powell agreed to go along with the Bush administrations plan to forcibly overthrow Saddam Hussein. Using his greatest asset, his popularity with the public, he went before the United Nations and the world to build a case for invading Iraq.
"Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction," he said.
Later, after the United States was firmly entrenched in the war, inaccuracies were found in Powell's speech and the Bush administration said it acted on faulty intelligence.
Powell admitted the United Nations speech was a painful blot on his record and pushed for reform in the intelligence community.
"I'm so proud that I have had this chance to serve my nation," Powell said.
In 2008, the longtime Republican made news when he endorsed Barack Obama for president.
Powell spent his final years in the private sector, but he remained vocal on political issues that were important to him.
Powell's wife, Alma, also had a breakthrough case of COVID-19, but responded to treatment, CBS News reported.
CBS2's Dick Brennan and CBS News' Meg Oliver contributed to this report.
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