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Boxing legend Muhammad Ali — ‘The Greatest’ — dies at 74 after long battle with Parkinson’s

Staff report

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay in Louisville in 1942, who became a legend in his own time, died late Friday night in a hospital in Phoenix.

He was 74.

He had been hospitalized earlier in the week for respiratory problems and for over 30 years had been battling Parkinsons disease, a neurological affliction some experts attributed to blows to the head from two decades as a boxer.

Ali was a colorful figure throughout his life, famous for his poetic speech, outspoken views and charisma. His celebrity transcended sports as he became an international symbol for social change.

He was a three-time world heavyweight boxing champion.

Muhammad Ali, photo from his website

Muhammad Ali, photo from his website

“Boxing,” he once said, “was just a means to introduce me to the world.”

He changed his name to Muhammad Ali in 1964, joining the Nation of Islam. He refused to be drafted into service in the Vietnam War in 1967 for religious reasons, was convicted of draft evasion, stripped of his championship title and banished from the ring. In 1971 the Supreme Court overturned the conviction and cleared the way for his return to boxing.

“It’s a lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges,” he said, “and I believe in myself.”

He subsequently met – and fell to — Joe Frazier for the undisputed heavyweight title of the world in what was dubbed the “Fight of the Century” in 1971 at Madison Square Garden. Ali won their next two fights in a famous trilogy considered to be the best display of boxing in the history of the sport.

When he retired from the ring in 1981, he immersed himself in charitable work and humanitarian causes.

In 2005 President George W. Bush presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

He was married four times and had nine children. He and his fourth wife, Yolanda, had been married since 1986.

Ali’s funeral will take place in his hometown. The family will announce details today.

Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, released a statement offering “heartfelt condolences,” and saying, “Ali was a global ambassador for cross-cultural understanding; who stood up for many and who symbolized the victory of the human spirit.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell released this statement: “Elaine and I were deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Muhammad Ali, one of the preeminent and most beloved athletes of the 20th century. Inside the ring, he was graceful on his feet and packed a powerful punch. Outside the ring, he thrilled us with his exuberance for life. He was more than just a boxer. He was The Greatest. His life story is an American story, and it’s a story that began in Louisville, Kentucky. Ali grew up in Louisville. He fought his first professional fight there. And Louisville is now the site of the Muhammad Ali Center, which will continue his legacy and preserve his life story for all to experience. Our thoughts are with the Ali family and the dedicated staff at the Ali Center in this time of grief.”

For more information about Muhammad Ali, see this website.

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