Muhammad Ali, one of the world’s most recognized athletes and a worldwide symbol for humanitarianism, passed away at Friday evening at the age of 74.
Ali, who’s battled Parkinson’s disease for the last 30 years, entered a Phoenix hospital on Thursday for “respiratory issues” and was listed in “fair condition.” Friday morning, reports began circulating that Ali’s condition had deteriorated to the point where life support was required. For the rest of the day, family members flocked to the boxing legend’s bedside to prepare for the end.
Ali began his career as Cassius Clay and won Olympic gold as a light-heavyweight in 1960. Turning pro that same year, Clay made early headlines for his brash predictions, taunts and unconventional in-ring style predicated on speed and cat-like reflexes. He won the heavyweight championship in one of the sports great upsets in stopping Sonny Liston in 1964. He became reviled immediately after by announcing his devotion to the Nation of Islam and changing his name to Muhammad Ali.
In 1967, he was stripped on the title for refusing draft induction in the Vietnam War on religious grounds. The move galvanized him as a symbol of the anti-war and Civil Rights movements. Once reinstated in 1970, he went on to have legendary wars with Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, and regained the title in another monumental upset, this time over an undefeated George Foreman, in 1974. He would close the 70s with a then record third title win over Leon Spinks.
In retirement, Ali used his celebrity in many humanitarian efforts, including meeting with Saddam Hussein in 1991 to negotiate the release of American hostages. In 2005, he opened the Muhammad Ali Center in his native Louisville to champion culture and his core values of “respect, confidence, conviction, dedication, charity, and spirituality.”
Ali is survived by his wife Lonnie and nine children. Funeral arrangements are expected to be announced this weekend.
Had to wipe away the tears writing about this piece tonight. But these are tears of joy for a triumphant life. Well deserved tributes will be posted here and elsewhere in the coming week. For now, I say a prayer for his soul and am thankful for the champion he was in and outside the ring. Rest well, champ.