Muhammad Ali, considered worldwide as “The Greatest” to ever enter a boxing ring, died at 9:10 p.m. Friday at a Phoenix, Arizona-area hospital. He was 74 years old.
The boxing champion spent 32 years fighting Parkinson’s disease but succumbed to septic shock due to unspecified natural causes, according to Ali’s spokesman Bob Gunnell. He was admitted to the hospital Thursday for breathing problems, and then his health began to seriously decline. Ali’s nine children and his wife were at his bedside, praying with him and saying their goodbyes when he passed away.
“It was really a beautiful thing to watch, it displayed all that is good about Muhammad Ali and the family displayed that, with the dignity,” Gunnell said in an interview. “Of course there was sorrow and sadness, but it was done where the champ would have been very proud.”
Ali’s daughter Hanna said in a tweet Saturday that at the time of his death, “All of his organs failed, but his heart wouldn’t stop beating.” She said his heart would continue beating for 30 more minutes.
Hana Ali (@Hanayali) June 4, 2016
From Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali
Ali was born with the heart of a champion in Louisville, Kentucky, on Jan. 17, 1942. His birth name was Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. When his bike was stolen at the age of 12, he confided in a police officer, Joe Martin, who also trained young boxers, that he wanted to beat up the thief. Martin started working with Ali, teaching him how to box, which would eventually launch his career.
As indicated in perhaps his most famous poetic quote, Ali’s dexterity and agility was unmatched:
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, his hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see,” he said.
Ali was as fast as lightning in the boxing ring. In 1960, he became an Olympic gold medalist. He then defeated Sonny Liston to become world heavyweight boxing champion in 1964. The same year, after joining the Nation of Islam, he changed his name.
During the Vietnam War, in 1966, when reporters wanted to know if Ali would enlist as he was eligible for the draft, he responded, “Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.”
He objected to the war and refused to serve due to his religious beliefs as a member of the Nation of Islam. In 1967, Ali was convicted of draft evasion and banned from boxing for three years. As a result, he was stripped of his heavyweight championship, and court battles ensued.
Ali was granted a reprieve and returned to the ring in 1970, defeating Jerry Quarry. It wasn’t until June 1971 that the Supreme Court officially overturned his conviction for evading the draft. The same year, for the first time in his professional career, Ali lost a boxing match, being defeated by Joe Frazier. But Ali would become heavyweight champion two more times during the 1970s, defeating George Foreman and making a comeback against Frazier.
“I’ve seen George Foreman shadow boxing and the shadow won,” Ali said before defeating Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle” in 1974.
“Frazier is so ugly he should donate his face to the U.S. Bureau of Wildlife,” he said before the “Thrilla in Manila” in 1975.
But after defeating Frazier, Ali was apologetic.
“I said a lot of things in the heat of the moment that I shouldn’t have said. Called him names I shouldn’t have called him. I apologize for that. I’m sorry. It was all meant to promote the fight.”
Ali was known throughout his career for his witty banter against his opponents and confident declarations, including, “I am the greatest.” However, it was Ali’s social activism on issues of race, religion and politics that made him a controversial figure.
“Muhammad Ali was The Greatest.Period,” President Barack Obama said in a statement on Saturday.
He also made reference to Ali’s outspokenness on issues:
“‘I am America,'” [Muhammad Ali] once declared. ‘I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me.’
“That’s the Ali I came to know as I came of age not just as skilled a poet on the mic as he was a fighter in the ring, but a man who fought for what was right. A man who fought for us.
“He stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn’t.His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing. It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled and nearly send him to jail.
“But Ali stood his ground. And his victory helped us get used to the America we recognize today.”
Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984. Despite the limitations caused by the disease, he was a philanthropist, an active humanitarian and a goodwill ambassador. Ali earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 and the NAACP President’s Award in 2009.
In a statement on Saturday, the NAACP praised Ali for his record on humanitarian efforts and social activism. The organization said in part:
“Ali opened The Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville to serve as a forum to promote respect, tolerance and understanding. At a time when anti-Islamic rhetoric has become all too common in our society and even in the campaign for president, Muhammad Ali represented a Muslim American who was beloved and respected by millions around the world.”
In aDecember 7 statement, Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
Ali converted to mainstream Sunni Islam in 1975, and then to the Sufi Islam in 2005. Heissued a public statement in Decembertitled, “Presidential Candidates Proposing to Ban Muslim Immigration to the United States.”
He never mentioned Trump by name, but the statement was widely viewed as a rebuke to the presumptiveRepublican presidential nominee’s stance on Muslim immigration.
“Our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam,” Ali wrote, “and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people’s views on what Islam really is.”
When he said “murderers,” Ali was referring to theviolent Islamic extremists responsible for terrorist attacks in Paris, San Bernardino and other places.
The NAACP’s statement also said that it will “continue to use [Ali’s] life as an example for all of us to not be passive participants in our society. As we continue to fight for the right to vote, to fight against racial profiling and to fight against an unjust criminal justice system, Muhammad Ali’s legacy will continue to inspire generations to be bold, be fearless, and ‘be great.'”
Ali was married four times and is survived by his wife, nine children and large extended family.
The champ will have a public funeral in his hometown of Louisville at 2 p.m. Friday at the KFC YUM! Center. Former President Bill Clinton, sportscaster Bryant Gumbel and actor Billy Crystal are among those expected to give eulogies. Prior to the funeral, there will be a procession throughout Louisville, which will include locations that were historically important to Ali.
The services will be streamed live at:http://www.alicenter.org/home/.
Social media tributes to Muhammad Ali:
Hana Ali & the whole family, my heart goes out you. Muhammad Ali has been a fine man. That will never die. pic.twitter.com/3L5HK0zPCb
George Foreman (@GeorgeForeman) June 4, 2016
Larry Holmes (@LarryHolmes75) June 4, 2016
He shook up the world, and the world’s better for it. Rest in peace, Champ. pic.twitter.com/z1yM3sSLH3
President Obama (@POTUS) June 4, 2016
Mike Tyson (@MikeTyson) June 4, 2016
Rev Jesse Jackson Sr (@RevJJackson) June 4, 2016