US President Barack Obama and figures from the worlds of art and politics have paid tribute to the Colombian author and Nobel Prize for Literature winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez after his death at the age of 87.

The Nobel laureate won worldwide fame with his novels and short stories, which exposed tens of millions of readers to Latin America's passion, superstition, violence and inequality.

Widely considered the most popular Spanish-language writer since Miguel de Cervantes in the 17th century, Garcia Marquez achieved literary celebrity which spawned comparisons to Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.

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President Obama said: "With the passing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the world has lost one of its greatest visionary writers - and one of my favourites from the time I was young.

"I offer my thoughts to his family and friends, whom I hope take solace in the fact that Gabo's work will live on for generations to come."

Former US President Bill ­Clinton, who was a friend of Garcia Marquez, added: "I was always amazed by his unique gifts of imagination, clarity of thought, and emotional honesty. He captured the pain and joy of our common humanity in settings both real and magical.

"I was honoured to be his friend and to know his great heart and brilliant mind for more than 20 years."

Known as Gabo to his fans, Garcia Marquez's ­flamboyant and melancholy fictional works - among them Chronicle Of A Death Foretold, Love In The Time Of Cholera and Autumn Of The Patriarch - outsold everything published in Spanish except the Bible. The epic 1967 novel One Hundred Years Of Solitude sold more than 50 million copies in more than 25 languages.

Garcia Marquez was born in Aracataca, a small Colombian town near the Caribbean coast, on March 6, 1927. He was the eldest of the 11 children of Luisa Santiaga Marquez and Gabriel Elijio Garcia, a telegraphist and a wandering homeopathic pharmacist who was also something of a philanderer and fathered at least four children outside of his marriage.

Garcia Marquez was raised for 10 years by his grandmother and his grandfather, a retired colonel who fought in the devastating 1000-Day War which hastened Colombia's loss of the Panamanian isthmus.

His grandparents' tales would provide material for his fiction and Aracataca became the model for Macondo, the village surrounded by banana plantations at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains where One Hundred Years Of Solitude is set.

He published his first piece of fiction as a student in 1947, mailing a short story to the newspaper El Espectador after its literary editor wrote that "Colombia's younger generation has nothing to offer in the way of good literature anymore".

Colombian pop star Shakira praised the author yesterday, saying: "Your life, dear Gabo, will be remembered by all of us as a unique and singular gift, and as the most original story of all."

Chilean novelist Isabel Allende added: "He gave me the motivation and freedom to launch myself into writing because in his books I found my own family, my country, characters familiar to me, the colour and rhythm and abundance of my continent.

"My teacher has died so as not to cry over him I'll carry on reading him time and again."

British novelist Ian McEwan added: "He was a one-off and one would have to go back to Dickens to find a writer of the highest literary quality who commanded such extraordinary persuasive powers over whole populations." He said Garcia Marquez's work had "almost a Shakespearean quality."

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said: "A thousand years of solitude and sadness for the death of the greatest Colombian of all time."