Muhammad Ali, the magnificent heavyweight champion whose fast fists and irrepressible personality transcended sports and captivated the world, has died. He was 74.
Ali suffered for years from Parkinson’s disease, which ravaged his body but could never dim his larger-than-life presence. A towering figure in his prime, he still travelled and made appearances in his later years despite being muted by the thousands of hits he took during his remarkable career.
He was hospitalised in Phoenix with respiratory problems earlier this week, and his family gathered around him. He died Friday night, according to a statement from the family.
Ali was a giant of his time — a furious and loud fighter whose influence was felt far beyond the ring. He engaged in some of the world’s most iconic fights even though his career was interrupted for more than three years when he refused to be drafted for military service during the Vietnam War.
He beat the invincible Sonny Liston, fought a string of thrilling fights with Joe Frazier and stopped George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire. But he paid a terrible price for the estimated 29,000 punches he took to his head during a career that made him perhaps the most recognized person on earth.
“I am the greatest,” Ali thundered again and again.
Few would disagree.
Despite his debilitating illness, he travelled the world to rapturous receptions even as the once-bellowing voice was reduced to a whisper and he was left to communicate with a wink or a weak smile.
Revered — and reviled — by millions, Ali cut quite a figure in his prime, indeed, complete with an entourage nearly as colourful as he was urging him to “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” He finished with a record of 56-5 with 37 knockouts and was the first man to win heavyweight titles three times.