PHOENIX (Diya TV) — Three-time World Heavyweight Champion boxer Muhammad Ali, who proclaimed himself as “The Greatest,” died Friday evening at a Phoenix-area hospital where he had spent the past few days receiving treatment for respiratory complications.
He was 74 years old.
“After a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74. The three-time World Heavyweight Champion boxer died this evening,” family spokesperson Bob Gunnell said.
Ali lived with his Parkinson’s for three decades, a progressive neurological condition that slowly chipped away the timeless image of his silver tongue and physical dexterity. Widely observed as one of the greatest fighters in the history of boxing, Ali retired in 1981 after losing to Trevor Berbick in his 61st career bout.
Ali first stepped into the boxing ring at age 12. After his bicycle was stolen, a police officer in his hometown of Louisville, Ky. suggested he learn how to box. What came next was something no one could have predicted: Ali developed into one of the most celebrated athletes and public figures in history.
He was known for his dancing in the ring and quick style as a fighter. After emerging victorious in 100 of 108 bouts as an amateur fighter, Ali captured gold at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.
As an act against racism, Ali said he threw his gold medal into a river after being refused service at a soda fountain for being black.
At age 22, he shocked the world when he defeated Sonny Liston, beating the defending champ in seven rounds. In their next fight in 1965, Ali again floored Liston, retaining his heavyweight title just minutes into the fight after the referee brought it to a halt. After capturing the heavyweight title, he renounced the name he was then known by, Cassius Clay, for it’s slave connotation — he would henceforth be known as Muhammad Ali, bestowed by Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad.
He was perhaps greatest known for his boastful talk and stylish way of speaking.
“Most of them [other boxers] … can fight almost as good as I can. I’m just saying you never heard of them. And the reason for that is because they cannot throw the jive. Cassius Clay is a boxer who can throw the jive better than anybody.”
He successfully defended his heavyweight title six times, before being drafted into the Army in 1967 during the height of the Vietnam War. Previously, Ali had said the war did not meet the standards of his faith and that he had “no quarrel” with America’s enemy, the Vietcong. He refused to serve.
“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, some poor, hungry people in the mud, for big powerful America, and shoot them for what?” Ali said in an interview. “They never called me nigger. They never lynched me. They didn’t put no dogs on me.”
In April of 1967, Ali’s stand against the war and his draft status was showcased after he refusal to step forward when his name was called. He was immediately stripped of his boxing title, convicted of draft evasion and was sentenced to five years in prison.
After four years of fighting, his appeal finally reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which reversed the conviction in a unanimous decision. The Supreme Court ruled the Department of Justice had improperly told the draft board that Ali’s stance wasn’t motivated by religious reasons.
Even with his health in decline, Ali never shied away from politics or the spotlight. In December, he released a statement calling out Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. “We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda,” he said.
Once he retired, Ali transformed himself into an ambassador and civil servant. He served the United Nations as a “Messenger of Peace,” and fought tirelessly to end poverty and world hunger. It all culminated in 2005 when Ali was awarded the highest U.S. civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In his final years, it became almost impossible for Ali to form complete words. During an interview with NPR in 2009, he let his wife read his essay for the world to hear:
“I never thought of the possibility of failing, only of the fame and glory I was going to get when I won,” Ali wrote. “I could see it. I could almost feel it. When I proclaimed that I was the greatest of all time, I believed in myself, and I still do.”