One of the most famous sportsmen of all time, and an often polarising figure, the legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, has died.
The sporting legend passed away yesterday aged 74 after being hospitalised with breathing problems last week. He leaves a wife, Lonnie, and nine children.
Ali had been hospitalized several times in recent years, most recently in early 2015 when he was treated for a severe urinary tract infection, initially diagnosed a month prior as pneumonia. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease since the 1980s, when he brought high profile attention to his diagnosis of the disease.
On April 9 this year he appeared at the annual Celebrity Fight Night dinner in Phoenix, which raises funds for treatment of the disease. He was photographed wearing sunglasses and looking frail.
His last public appearance prior to that was in October of last year when he appeared at the Sports Illustrated Tribute to Muhammad Ali at The Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.
He was joined by former opponents George Foreman and Larry Holmes at that event.
His third wife Veronica Porche also said in an interview on Friday that her two daughters with Ali, Laila and Hana, were on their way to see their father.
‘My daughters have both flown there and I will be hearing from them when they arrive at the hospital,’ Porche told Radar Online.
‘I can’t comment more than that but I will say it is not so great, I’ll just say that much. He’s a real hero. It’s a sad situation.’
Ali’s second wife, Khalilah, also said that one of her daughters was rushing off to see the boxer in the hospital.
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on Jan. 17, 1942, Ali took up boxing at age 12, when his bike was stolen and he wanted to find and whip the culprit.
He was introduced to Joe Martin, a police officer who coached boxing at a local gym. Ali flourished in the ring, becoming a top amateur and Olympic gold medalist. He made his professional debut in Louisville and arranged for a local children’s hospital to receive proceeds from the fight. His decision alienated Ali from many across the U.S. and resulted in a draft-evasion conviction. Ali found himself embroiled in a long legal fight that ended in 1971, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favour.
He lost his first bid to regain the heavyweight crown when Frazier knocked him down and took a decision in the ‘Fight of the Century’ at Madison Square Garden in 1971. Ali regained the heavyweight title in 1974, defeating Foreman in the ‘Rumble in the Jungle.’
A year later, he outlasted Frazier in the epic Thrilla in Manila bout. Ali’s last title came in 1978 when he defeated Leon Spinks.
After retiring from boxing in 1981, he devoted himself to social causes and travelled the world on humanitarian missions, mingling with the masses and rubbing elbows with world leaders.
Ali received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2005.
Writer Joyce Carol Oates said he was one of the few athletes in any sport to “define the terms of his public reputation”. He is famous for quotes such as, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” and “I don’t have to be what you want me to be.”
He has been voted Sportsman of the Century by Sports Illustrated and BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
Rest in peace, champ.