Muhammad Ali, Humanitarian Hero & Boxing Icon, Has Died

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali

He had been battling Parkinson’s disease since 1984, which contributed to the respiratory illness that ultimately took his life. The Greatest has fallen. Boxer and activist Muhammad Ali passed away at the age of 74, according to multiple reports. Ali was in a Phoenix-area hospital at the time of his death.

“After a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74,” family spokesperson Bob Gunnell said in a statement published by NBC News. The funeral of the three-time World Heavyweight Champion boxer will take place in his hometown of Louisville, KY.

Widely considered the greatest athlete of all time, Ali made an immeasurable impact on the world of professional sports and, to a larger extent American culture. Known not only for his outstanding boxing record, which includes 37 knockouts in his 61 fight career, Ali become a celebrity thanks to his larger-than-life personality, which included boastful braggadocio such as the now-iconic promise that he’d “Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” in fighting Sonny Liston. Outside the ring, Ali was outspoken in his adherence to values of religious freedom, racial equality and social justice.

Born Cassius Clay in 1942, the native of Louisville began fighting at age 12, then made his professional debut in 1960. Many were turned off by his taunts and grandiose statements — now the kind of “trash talk” that’s a staple of many sports and entertainment in general — but his record of swift knockouts made his comments hard to dispute.

He changed his name to Muhmmad Ali in 1964, amid the Civil Rights movement that was changing America. He’d converted to the Nation of Islam, abandoning what he referred to as his “slave name.”

Ali’s social consciousness impacted his career in 1967, when he refused to obey a draft and serve in the Vietnam War. He never served the five years he was sentenced, but was fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years. Instead of harming his career, the civi disobedience made him a icon, particularly to a growing youth movement that would dramatically change American culture. The Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1971.

As one of the greatest and most important sports figures in history and aided by a magnetic charm, Ali found his way to Hollywood where he appeared in a handful of movies and television shows, including the 1996 Academy Award-winning documentary When We Were Kings, which revisited his 1974 fight — dubbed “The Rumble in the Jungle” — with George Foreman.

His TV credits include Vega$ (1979), Diff’rent Strokes (1979), and Touched by an Angel (1999), and he voiced an animated version of himself for the 1977 series I Am the Greatest: The Adventures of Muhammad Ali. You may also remember him as a pitchman for Vitalis, Pizza Hut, and d-Con pest traps, which featured the boxer telling consumers how to knock out roaches.

Ali is survived by his wife Yolanda Williams, and children Maryum, Jamillah, Rasheda, Muhammad, Hana, Asaad, Miya, Khaliah and daughter Laila, also a professional boxer.