Legendary athlete Muhammad Ali has died from respiratory illness complicated by his Parkinson’s disease.
He was 74 years old.
On Thursday, news of Ali’s hospitalization broke when spokesman Bob Gunnell informed press that the iconic boxer was being treated at an unidentified facility for a respiratory issue. While his condition was initially listed as fair, reports emerged Friday that his condition had taken a turn for the worse.
By Friday afternoon, his nine children had flown to be at his side over concerns of his health.
The boxing legend, considered to be one of the world’s greatest athletes, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in the 1980s. Over the years, Ali has been hospitalized a handful of times, most recently last year to treat a urinary tract infection and in December 2014 with pneumonia.
In recent years, the boxing legend’s public appearances have been scarce — in April during the Celebrity Fight Night dinner in Phoenix (an annual event to raise funds for Parkinson’s treatment and research), he was photographed wearing sunglasses and appeared “frail,” USA Today reports. His last formal public appearance was at the Sports Illustrated Tribute to Muhammad Ali at The Muhammad Ali Center in October.
Ali was born Cassius Clay on January 17, 1942 in Louisville, KY. He began training as a boxer when he was just 12 years old. Following his high school graduation at 18, he went to the Rome Olympics in 1960, where he took home the gold medal. From there, he took the world by storm with his signature dance-like moves in the ring and remarkable athleticism. In 1964, at the age of 22, he beat Sonny Liston in a stunning upset to become the Heavyweight World Champion. It would be the first of three Heavyweight titles.
Three years later, he joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. After his conversion, he famously refused to serve in the Vietnam War, citing his religious beliefs and an opposition to the war. He famously told reporters, “No Vietcong ever called me a nigger,” effectively bringing national attention to what he saw as a hypocrisy in our nation, which was plagued by racial tensions. He was later arrested and convicted of draft evasion, for which he was stripped of his boxing title and banned from the sport for three years. It was a devastating blow to an athlete’s career, losing peak years of performance.
He would later appeal his case, which went to the Supreme Court, where his conviction was overturned in 1971. But his actions would make him an icon for political opposition, as he was the first national figure to speak out against the war.
Ali’s comeback came in 1970, when he fought Jerry Quarry, followed by another match against Oscar Bonavena. In 1971, Ali and undefeated champion Joe Frazier squared off at Madison Square Garden in what was dubbed “The Fight Of The Century.” Ali and Frazier fought an intense 15 rounds, but Ali ultimately lost his first fight of his professional career. He would go on to beat Frazier in 1974 and again in 1975.
Ali officially retired from boxing in 1981 with a 56-5 record, including 37 knockouts. Three years later, it was revealed that he was suffering from Parkinson’s. In the years following his retirement, he was awarded countless honors, including Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsman Of The Century,” BBC’s Sports Personality Of The Century Award and GQ’s “Athlete Of The Century Award.”
Aside from his athletic career, Ali also leaves behind a legacy of activism and humanitarian work. He founded multiple charitable foundations including the Muhammad Ali Center and the Muhammad Ali Parkinson’s Center.
Ali is considered by many to be the greatest athlete of all time, revolutionizing the sport of boxing with new techniques. But his outspoken nature, unapologetic willingness to decry social injustice and his black pride made him an icon outside of the ring.
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