Three-time heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali, who charmed millions with his wit and confidence in the ring and inspired many more with his commitment to humanitarian causes has died, according to the family spokesman. He was 74.
Ali had been hospitalized for a respiratory issue June 2. At the time, a rep said he was in fair condition.
One of the greatest fighters in the history of boxing, Ali retired in 1981 after losing to Trevor Berbick in his 61st career bout.
Soon thereafter, Ali – who doctors said had begun showing signs of sluggishness and neurological damage in the 1970s — began receiving treatment for Parkinson’s disease.
Ali, who called himself “The Greatest,” was married four times and had nine children, including daughter Laila, who also became a professional boxer. Ali and his fourth wife, Yolanda “Lonnie” Williams, had been married since 1986.
Born Cassius Clay on Jan. 17, 1942, Ali first stepped in the ring at age 12 in his hometown of Louisville, Ky., after his bicycle was stolen and a police officer suggested he learn how to box. Ali went on to become one of the most successful athletes and revered public figures in history.
After winning 100 of 108 amateur fights, Ali took home an Olympic gold medal at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. He later allegedly chucked the medal into a river after a waitress at a soda fountain in Louisville refused to serve him because he was black.
At age 22, he stunned the larger Liston, beating the champ in seven rounds in Miami to win his first heavyweight title. In their next match in 1965, Ali floored Liston with a hard, quick blow minutes into the bout and retained his crown when the referee stopped the fight.
With one Olympic gold medal and a heavyweight belt to his credit, Ali soon began making headlines for his religious and political beliefs.
Inspired by black rights activist Malcolm X, he converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali in 1964. When he refused in 1967 to serve in the U.S. Army because of his religious convictions, Ali fended off sharp criticism from a nation that was raw from the dividing forces of the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title in 1967, fined $10,000 and sentenced to five years in prison for draft evasion. That conviction was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971.
Though gone from the ring, Ali entrenched himself in charitable work and humanitarian causes – from serving as a United Nations “Messenger of Peace” to supporting hunger and poverty relief. He appeared on the lecture circuit, although the frequency of his appearances lessened when his speech began to slur from his advancing disease.
In 2005, he was awarded the highest U.S. civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Late last year, Ali hit at Donald Trump following his proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S. “I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world,” Ali said in a statement. “True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion.”
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