Mr Powell, a retired four-star general who served as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in the early 1990s, had been treated for Covid at Walter Reed national medical centre in Bethesda, Maryland, where he died. He was fully vaccinated against coronavirus but had a compromised immune system having been treated for blood cancer.
Announcing his death, his family said they had lost a “remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American”.
Mr Powell was the first black US secretary of state, serving in that role under George W Bush from 2001 to 2005. He rose to the heights of military and diplomatic service from relatively disadvantaged beginnings, having been born in New York City to Jamaican parents and raised in the South Bronx where he was educated through public schools before he entered the army via a college officer training programme.
A statement from US president Joe Biden and the first lady, Jill Biden, said they were “deeply saddened by the passing of our dear friend and a patriot of unmatched honour and dignity” and referred to Mr Powell having “repeatedly broken racial barriers [and] blazing a trail for others”.
Mr Biden further said of Powell: “Over our many years working together – even in disagreement – Colin was always someone who gave you his best and treated you with respect. Colin embodied the highest ideals of both warrior and diplomat … having fought in wars, he understood better than anyone that military might alone was not enough to maintain our peace and prosperity … Colin led with his personal commitment to the democratic values that make our country strong … Above all, Colin was my friend.”
Mr Powell rose to occupy the top military position in the US government as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff between 1989 and 1993. In that role he presided over military crises including the invasion of Panama in 1989 and the first Gulf war in 1990-91.
But it was in the buildup to the contentious invasion of Iraq in 2003 that Mr Powell became a household name. He was the face of the Bush administration’s aggressive attempt to get the world community to back the invasion, based on false claims of Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction.