Former world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, who had advanced Parkinson’s disease, died Friday after being taken to Phoenix-area hospital due to respiratory ailment. Ali made himself a prominent figure by his record-setting boxing career, extraordinary skills for showmanship, and his controversial stands.
Bob Gunnell, family spokesman, confirmed Ali’s death late Friday evening, however the main cause of death was not immediately disclosed.
Ali’s long fight with Parkinson’s syndrome weakened his speech and made the once-graceful athlete nearly a prisoner in his own body.
No one could argue with his athletic prowess at his peak in the 1960s, being the first person to win the heavyweight championship three times. However with time, Ali became much more than a vibrant and remarkable athlete.
For instance, his influence extended far beyond boxing as he spoke bravely against racism in the ’60s, as well as the Vietnam War. With time, he became the unofficial spokesman for millions of blacks and oppressed people around the world, because of his refusal to compromise his opinions and stand up to white authorities.
Ali met scores of world leaders and for a period of time, he was considered the most identifiable person on earth, known even in remote villages far from the United States.
Ali’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s came about three years after he retired from boxing in 1981.
Today, after he lost the battle with the disease, the whole world is sharing the bitter taste of his loss. Roy Jones Jr., a former champion boxer who grew up during Ali’s prime, said in a Tweet: “My heart is deeply saddened yet both appreciative and relieved that the greatest is now resting in the greatest place.”
Once asked about his preferred legacy, Ali said: “I would like to be remembered as a man who won the heavyweight title three times, who was humorous and who treated everyone right. As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him … who stood up for his beliefs … who tried to unite all humankind through faith and love.”
“And if all that’s too much, then I guess I’d settle for being remembered only as a great boxer who became a leader and a champion of his people. And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was.”
Ali was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on Jan. 17, 1942, as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., a name shared with a 19th century slavery abolitionist. He changed his name after his conversion to Islam.
Ali is survived by his wife, the former Lonnie Williams, who knew him when she was a child in Louisville, along with his nine children.