- Muhammad Ali: Septic shock caused boxing legend’s death
- Muhammad Ali
- Septic shock
- Trump Says He Might Pardon Boxing Legend Muhammad Ali. What Did Ali Do?
- Muhammad Ali
- Muhammad Ali Dies at Age 74
- Fighter and Thinker: the Two Sides of Muhammad Ali
- Muhammad Ali Celebrated at Compelling, Affectionate New Exhibition
- Grace and speed
- Biography Newsletters
- Early Life
- Muhammad Ali’s Life in Photos
- Olympic Gold
- Conversion to Islam
- Vietnam and Supreme Court Case
- Muhammad Ali: Record
- PHOTOS: Muhammad Ali’s Best Fight Moments
- Spouse and Children
- The real reason Muhammad Ali converted to Islam
- THIS DAY IN HISTORY
Muhammad Ali: Septic shock caused boxing legend’s death
Image copyright EPA Image caption Tributes have been flowing in for Muhammad Ali from across America and the world
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali died of “septic shock due to unspecified natural causes”, his family has said.
The three-time world heavyweight champion – one of the world’s greatest sporting figures – died on Friday night at a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona.
The 74-year-old had been suffering from a respiratory illness, a condition that was complicated by Parkinson’s disease.
A public funeral will be held for the boxer on Friday in his hometown of Louisville in Kentucky.
“He was a citizen of the world and would want people from all walks of life to be able to attend his funeral,” said the family spokesman, Bob Gunnell.
Former US President Bill Clinton is among those who will give a eulogy at the service, and was one of many prominent global figures who paid tribute to Ali on Saturday, saying he lived a life “full of religious and political convictions that led him to make tough choices and live with the consequences”.
The legendary Brazilian footballer, Pele, said the sporting universe had suffered a huge loss.
“Muhammad Ali shook up the world. And the world is better for it,” said US President Barack Obama.
Obituary: Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali in his own words
Hometown mourns the ‘Louisville Lip’
Tributes pour in
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, 17 January 1942
over a professional career lasting 21 years
including 37 knockouts
3 times crowned World Heavyweight Champion
1 Light-heavyweight Olympic gold medal
31 straight wins before being beaten by Joe Frazier
Ali was as much a campaigner for black equality as he was a champion in the ring, where he won 56 of his 61 fights.
Asked how he would like to be remembered, he once said: “As a man who never sold out his people. But if that’s too much, then just a good boxer.
“I won’t even mind if you don’t mention how pretty I was.”
How great was he?
Muhammad Ali timeline
Online tributes to Ali
But he was once a polarising figure in the US. At a time of racial segregation in the 1960s he joined the separatist black sect, the Nation of Islam, which rejected the inclusive approach of civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King.
George Foreman, who lost his world title to Ali in the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” fight in Kinshasa in 1974, called him one of the greatest human beings he had ever met.
“To put him as a boxer is an injustice,” said Foreman.
American civil rights campaigner Jesse Jackson said Ali had been willing to sacrifice the crown and money for his principles when in 1967 he refused to serve in the Vietnam war.
That decision was widely criticised by the boxer’s fellow Americans. He was stripped of his title and had to put his fighting career on hold for three years.
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Ali shot to fame by winning light-heavyweight gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics.
Known as “The Greatest” – a nickname characteristically coined by the boxer himself – he beat Sonny Liston in 1964 to win his first world title and became the first boxer to capture a world heavyweight title on three separate occasions.
How world remembers Ali
World media: Muhammad Ali was unique
Nick Bryant: How Ali changed his sport and country
Foreman: “One of the greatest human beings”
At the time of his first fight with Liston, Clay was already involved with the Nation of Islam, a religious movement whose stated goals were to improve the spiritual, mental, social, and economic condition of African Americans in the US.
But in contrast to the inclusive approach favoured by civil rights leaders like Dr Martin Luther King, the Nation of Islam called for separate black development and was treated by suspicion by the American public.
Ali eventually converted to Islam, ditching what he called his “slave name” and becoming Cassius X and then Muhammad Ali.
- Life-threatening condition when blood pressure drops to dangerously low level after infection
- People with weakened immune system are more prone to developing septic shock
- Symptoms include slurred speech, confusion, diarrhoea, vomiting, shivering, muscle pain
- Quick response is key to successful treatment
Noted for his fast talk and bold fight predictions as much as his skills inside the ring, he retired in 1981 having won 56 of his 61 fights – 37 by knockout – and was later crowned “Sports Personality of the Century” by the BBC.
He was handed his first professional defeat by Joe Frazier in the “Fight of the Century” in New York on 8 March 1971, only to regain his title with an eighth-round knockout of George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle” in Kinshasa, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) on 30 October 1974.
Media playback is unsupported on your device Media captionThe world reacts to Muhammad Ali
Ali fought Frazier for a third and final time in the Philippines on 1 October 1975, coming out on top in the “Thrilla in Manila” when Frazier failed to emerge for the 15th and final round.
Six defences of his title followed before Ali lost on points to Leon Spinks in February 1978, although he regained the world title by the end of the year.
His career ended with one-sided defeats by Larry Holmes in 1980 and Trevor Berbick in 1981, many thinking he should have retired long before.
Media playback is unsupported on your device Media captionAli speaks to the BBC before the Rumble in the Jungle
Soon after retiring, rumours began to circulate about the state of his health. His speech had become slurred, he shuffled and he was often drowsy.
Parkinson’s syndrome was eventually diagnosed but Ali continued to make public appearances, receiving warm welcomes wherever he travelled.
He lit the Olympic cauldron at the 1996 Games in Atlanta and carried the Olympic flag at the opening ceremony for the 2012 Games in London.
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Trump Says He Might Pardon Boxing Legend Muhammad Ali. What Did Ali Do?
President Donald Trump is considering pardoning Muhammad Ali, the legendary boxer who died in 2016 at the age of 74.
Ali, born Cassius Clay, is best known today as one of the greatest athletes to ever step foot inside a boxing ring. But he was also an outspoken activist whose conscientious objection to serving in the Vietnam War would see him lose the heavyweight title and be effectively barred from his sport for over three years.
“I can’t take part in nothing,” Ali later said of his decision, “where I’d help the shooting of dark Asiatic people, who haven’t lynched me, deprived me of my freedom, justice and equality, or assassinated my leaders.”
In 1967, Ali was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison and fined $10,000. However, he remained free while he appealed his case. The Supreme Court in 1971 unanimously overturned Ali’s conviction, which leaves unclear whether a pardon is necessary or even possible. “There is no conviction from which a pardon is needed,” the late Ali’s attorney said in a statement Friday.
Trump pardoning Ali would be a break from his posture toward modern-day athletes who make their political opinions known on and off the field. The President has been particularly critical of National Football League players who have knelt during the national anthem to protest racism and police violence. (Trump also recently pardoned late boxer Jack Johnson, who was convicted on what many saw as racist grounds.)
Trump himself never served in Vietnam, having received several deferments for education and medical reasons.
Here’s more on the history of Ali’s conscientious objection, from TIME’s obituary written by Sean Gregory:
He would lose much more — the prime years of his career. In January 1964, Ali took the military qualifying examination. But his mental aptitude score was below the minimum requirement to be drafted. “I said I was the greatest, not the smartest,” he quipped. With the Vietnam War escalating, however, the military lowered the minimums. So in February of 1966, Ali was reclassified 1-A. His request for a deferment would be denied. When reporters hounded him for his reaction, Ali uttered words that would make him a national pariah, while at the same framed the debate about America’s role in the Vietnam conflict. “Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.”
Ali voiced his contempt for American policy before the anti-war movement gained steam. Newspaper editorial writers called Ali “the most disgusting character in memory to appear on the sports scene” and the “bum of all time.” The governor of Illinois labeled Ali as “disgusting,” while the governor of Maine said Ali “should be held in utter contempt by every patriotic American.” Ali next fight, against Ernie Terrell, was scheduled for Chicago in late March of 1966, but the Chicago Tribune urged the Illinois State Athletic Commission to cancel the bout. The state caved to the political pressure, and few other cities wanted any part of Ali: the Terrell fight was eventually moved to Toronto, though by this point Terrell himself backed out (a Canadian, George Chuvalo, filled in and actually went the distance with Ali before losing a one-sided decision). Media and politicians called for a boycott of the fight. “The heavyweight champion of the world turns my stomach,” said Frank Clark, a congressman from Pennsylvania.
By refusing to join the military, Ali was costing himself millions in endorsement money. Still, he didn’t flinch. “The white man want me hugging on a white women, or endorsing some whiskey, or some skin bleach, lightening the skin when I’m promoting black as best,” Ali told Sports Illustrated in 1966. “They want me advertising all this stuff that’d make me rich but hurt so many others. But by me sacrificing a little wealth I’m helping so many others. Little children can come by and meet the champ. Little kids in the alleys and slums of Florida and New York, they can come and see me where they never could walk up on Patterson and Liston. Can’t see them n—–s when they come to town! So the white man see the power in this. He see that I’m getting away with the Army backing offa me . . .They see who’s not flying the flag, not going in the Army; we get more respect.”
Ali filed for status as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, on the grounds that his religion prevented him from “participating in wars on the side of nonbelievers, and this is a Christian country, not a Muslim country. We are not, according to the Holy Qur’an, to even as much as aid in passing a cup of water to the wounded.” His conscientious objector claim bounced around the court system until April 28th, 1967, when Ali was to be inducted into the U.S. Army, in Houston. When the name “Cassius Marcellus Clay” was called out at the induction hearing, Ali refused to step forward. Ali was now facing a give-year prison sentence. He was immediately stripped of his titles and boxing licenses: Ali, 25, would not fight for another three-and-a-half years. “I can’t take part in nothing,” he’d later say, “where I’d help the shooting of dark Asiatic people, who haven’t lynched me, deprived me of my freedom, justice and equality, or assassinated my leaders.”
Exile – And Return
In June of 1967, Ali was convicted of draft evasion and given a five-year sentence. Though the appeals process kept him out of jail, no one let him back in the ring. “I canvassed 27 states tying to get him a license to fight,” Howard Conrad, one of Ali’s promoters, told TIME years later. “I even tried to set up a fight in a bullring across the border from San Diego, and they wouldn’t let him leave the country. Overnight he became a n—-r again. He threw his life away on one toss of the dice for something he believed in. Not many folks do that.”
While Ali was in exile, the man who struggled with reading, who finished ranked near the bottom of his high school class, made $2,500 a pop lecturing on college campuses (he also tried his hand at a Broadway musical, and received surprisingly positive reviews). “We’ve been brainwashed,” Ali said in one speech. “Everything good is supposed to be white. We look at Jesus, and we see a white with blond hair and blue eyes. Now, I’m sure there’s a heaven in the sky and colored folks die and go to heaven. Where are the colored angels? They must be in the kitchen preparing milk and honey. We look at Miss America, we see white. We look at Miss World, we see white. We look at Miss Universe, we see white. Even Tarzan, the king of the jungle in black Africa, he’s white. White Owl Cigars. White Swan soap. White Cloud tissue paper, White Rain hair rinse, White Tornado floor wax. All the good cowboys ride the white horses and wear white hats. Angel food cake is the white cake, but the devils food cake is chocolate. When are we going to wake up as a people and end the lie that white is better than black?”
As the 1960s drew to a close, Americans turned against the Vietnam War, elevating Ali’s popularity. And during an era when the government was giving false scores when it came to Vietnam, people knew that Ali was spouting truths, as he saw them. You might not agree with him, but you respected him. “I think Muhammad’s actions contributed enormously to the debate about whether the United States should be in Vietnam and galvanized some of his admirers to join the protests against the war for the first time,” the late Sen. Edward Kennedy told Hauser. “I respect the fact that he never backed down from his beliefs, that he took the consequences of refusing induction, and endured the loss of his title until after his conviction was reversed.” Ali told The Mirror newspaper of Great Britain, during a 2001 interview: “My refusal to go to Vietnam did not just help the black people, it helped more white people. More whites rebelled against Nam. It made me a hero to many white people as well as black people because I had the nerve to challenge the system, and all the people who hate injustice backed me for that.”
With Ali’s stature as a political and social force growing, the time was ripe to reassert his greatness in the ring. Since Georgia had no state boxing bureaucracy, Ali was able to secure his first fight in Atlanta, the deep South, against Jerry Quarry, a white man, on October 26, 1970. In the build up to the fight, Ali himself shied away from the anti-white rhetoric he sometimes employed at the height of his Nation of Islam allegiance. But he knew the fight had social consequences.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was hanging around Ali’s camp in suburban Atlanta the day of the fight, laid them out for author George Plimpton, who was on assignment for Sports Illustrated: “If Cassius loses tonight, Agnew could hold a news conference tomorrow,” Jackson said. “Symbolically, it would suggest that the forces of blind patriotism are right, that dissent is wrong, that protest means you don’t love the country . . . They tried to railroad him. They refused to believe his testimony about his convictions and his religion. They wouldn’t let him practice his profession. They tried to break his spirit and his body. Martin Luther King has a song:‘Truth crushed to the earth will rise again.’ That’s the black ethos. With Cassius Clay all we had was the hope, the psychological longing for his return. And it happened! In Georgia, of all places, and against a white man . . .So there are tremendous social implications. It doesn’t mean Quarry is a villain. But the focus has to be on Clay. He’s a hero, and he carries the same mantle that Joe Louis did against Max Schmeling, or Jesse Owens when he ran in Hitler’s Berlin. Injustice! In Atlanta, I have never sensed such electricity, such expectation in the streets. For the downtrodden, they need the high example – that their representatives, the symbol of their own difficulties, will win. Is that illogical?”
Quarry was gone in the third round. Ali’s fight style changed when he returned to the ring. His hands got soft, so he had to numb them before he got in the ring. Ali developed some fat, but his muscles were broader as well. With the time off, his legs weakened a bit. So he was no longer quick enough to dodge most punches thrown at him. “When he lost his legs, he lost his first line of defense,” Ferdie Pacheco, Ali’s long-time fight doctor, said in Muhammad Ali: His Life And Times. “That was when he discovered something which was both very good and very bad. Very bad in that it led to the physical damage he suffered later in his career; very good in that is eventually got him back the championship. He discovered he could take a punch.”
While Ali was suspended, a young heavyweight from Philadelphia, like Ali a former Olympic champion, claimed Ali’s crown: Joe Frazier. Ali wanted a title bout with Smokin’ Joe. A federal court ruled that New York’s denial of a ring license to Ali was “arbitrary and unreasonable,” since Ali’s lawyers gave the court a list of ninety convicted murderers, rapists, sodomites, armed thieves, and other miscreants who had been allowed to fight in the state. So six weeks after the Quarry fight, Ali returned to New York City in December, and survived a punishing fight against Oscar Bonavena, whom he finally beat in the 15th round. The stage was now set: Ali-Frazier, March 8, 1971, New York City, Madison Square Garden, Broadway. Ali was about to embark on the second act of a fight career that, given its captivating effect on the world — from the Americas, to Africa to the furthest reaches of Asia — would somehow exceed the first.
Write to Alex Fitzpatrick at [email protected]
Ali, MuhammadAn overview of Muhammad Ali’s life and career.© CCTV America (A Britannica Publishing Partner)See all videos for this article
Muhammad Ali, original name Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., (born January 17, 1942, Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.—died June 3, 2016, Scottsdale, Arizona), American professional boxer and social activist. Ali was the first fighter to win the world heavyweight championship on three separate occasions; he successfully defended this title 19 times.
What is Muhammad Ali known for?
Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest boxers in history, the first fighter to win the world heavyweight championship on three separate occasions. In addition, he was known for his social message of black pride and black resistance to white domination and for refusing induction into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
What awards did Muhammad Ali win?
Muhammad Ali was a member of the inaugural class of the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990, and in 2005 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
What were Muhammad Ali’s achievements?
Muhammad Ali achieved renown as a boxer through his speed, superb footwork, ability to take a punch, and tremendous courage. His final record of 56 wins and 5 losses with 37 knockouts has been matched by others, but the quality of his opponents and his overwhelming success during his prime placed him among boxing’s immortals.
Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., grew up in the American South in a time of segregated public facilities. His father, Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr., supported a wife and two sons by painting billboards and signs. His mother, Odessa Grady Clay, worked as a household domestic.
When Clay was 12 years old, he took up boxing under the tutelage of Louisville policeman Joe Martin. After advancing through the amateur ranks, he won a gold medal in the 175-pound division at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome and began a professional career under the guidance of the Louisville Sponsoring Group, a syndicate composed of 11 wealthy white men.
Ali, MuhammadOverview of Muhammad Ali’s life and career.Contunico © ZDF Enterprises GmbH, MainzSee all videos for this article
In his early bouts as a professional, Clay was more highly regarded for his charm and personality than for his ring skills. He sought to raise public interest in his fights by reading childlike poetry and spouting self-descriptive phrases such as “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” He told the world that he was “the Greatest,” but the hard realities of boxing seemed to indicate otherwise. Clay infuriated devotees of the sport as much as he impressed them. He held his hands unconventionally low, backed away from punches rather than bobbing and weaving out of danger, and appeared to lack true knockout power. The opponents he was besting were a mixture of veterans who were long past their prime and fighters who had never been more than mediocre. Thus, purists cringed when Clay predicted the round in which he intended to knock out an opponent, and they grimaced when he did so and bragged about each new conquest.
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On February 25, 1964, Clay challenged Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship of the world. Liston was widely regarded as the most intimidating, powerful fighter of his era. Clay was a decided underdog. But in one of the most stunning upsets in sports history, Liston retired to his corner after six rounds, and Clay became the new champion. Two days later Clay shocked the boxing establishment again by announcing that he had accepted the teachings of the Nation of Islam. On March 6, 1964, he took the name Muhammad Ali, which was given to him by his spiritual mentor, Elijah Muhammad.
For the next three years, Ali dominated boxing as thoroughly and magnificently as any fighter ever had. In a May 25, 1965, rematch against Liston, he emerged with a first-round knockout victory. Triumphs over Floyd Patterson, George Chuvalo, Henry Cooper, Brian London, and Karl Mildenberger followed. On November 14, 1966, Ali fought Cleveland Williams. Over the course of three rounds, Ali landed more than 100 punches, scored four knockdowns, and was hit a total of three times. Ali’s triumph over Williams was succeeded by victories over Ernie Terrell and Zora Folley.
- Sonny Liston on the canvas while Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali) raises his arms in triumph after his first-round defeat of Liston in 1965.AP/.com
- Angelo Dundee (left) taping the hands of Muhammad Ali, 1966.AP
Then, on April 28, 1967, citing his religious beliefs, Ali refused induction into the U.S. Army at the height of the war in Vietnam. This refusal followed a blunt statement voiced by Ali 14 months earlier: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.” Many Americans vehemently condemned Ali’s stand. It came at a time when most people in the United States still supported the war in Southeast Asia. Moreover, although exemptions from military service on religious grounds were available to qualifying conscientious objectors who were opposed to war in any form, Ali was not eligible for such an exemption, because he acknowledged that he would be willing to participate in an Islamic holy war.
Ali was stripped of his championship and precluded from fighting by every state athletic commission in the United States for three and a half years. In addition, he was criminally indicted and, on June 20, 1967, convicted of refusing induction into the U.S. armed forces and sentenced to five years in prison. Although he remained free on bail, four years passed before his conviction was unanimously overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court on a narrow procedural ground.
Meanwhile, as the 1960s grew more tumultuous, Ali’s impact upon American society was growing, and he became a lightning rod for dissent. Ali’s message of black pride and black resistance to white domination was on the cutting edge of the civil rights movement. Having refused induction into the U.S. Army, he also stood for the proposition that “unless you have a very good reason to kill, war is wrong.” As black activist Julian Bond later observed, “When a figure as heroic and beloved as Muhammad Ali stood up and said, ‘No, I won’t go,’ it reverberated through the whole society.”
In October 1970, Ali was allowed to return to boxing, but his skills had eroded. The legs that had allowed him to “dance” for 15 rounds without stopping no longer carried him as surely around the ring. His reflexes, while still superb, were no longer as fast as they had once been. Ali prevailed in his first two comeback fights, against Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena. Then, on March 8, 1971, he challenged Joe Frazier, who had become heavyweight champion during Ali’s absence from the ring. It was a fight of historic proportions, billed as the “Fight of the Century.” Frazier won a unanimous 15-round decision.
Following his loss to Frazier, Ali won 10 fights in a row, 8 of them against world-class opponents. Then, on March 31, 1973, a little-known fighter named Ken Norton broke Ali’s jaw in the second round en route to a 12-round upset decision. Ali defeated Norton in a rematch. After that he fought Joe Frazier a second time and won a unanimous 12-round decision. From a technical point of view, the second Ali-Frazier bout was probably Ali’s best performance in the ring after his exile from boxing.
On October 30, 1974, Ali challenged George Foreman, who had dethroned Frazier in 1973 to become heavyweight champion of the world. The bout (which Ali referred to as the “Rumble in the Jungle”) took place in the unlikely location of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Ali was received by the people of Zaire as a conquering hero, and he did his part by knocking out Foreman in the eighth round to regain the heavyweight title. It was in this fight that Ali employed a strategy once used by former boxing great Archie Moore. Moore called the maneuver “the turtle” but Ali called it “rope-a-dope.” The strategy was that, instead of moving around the ring, Ali chose to fight for extended periods of time leaning back into the ropes in order to avoid many of Foreman’s heaviest blows.
Over the next 30 months, at the peak of his popularity as champion, Ali fought nine times in bouts that showed him to be a courageous fighter but a fighter on the decline. The most notable of these bouts occurred on October 1, 1975, when Ali and Joe Frazier met in the Philippines, 6 miles (9.5 km) outside Manila, to do battle for the third time. In what is regarded by many as the greatest prizefight of all time (the “Thrilla in Manila”), Ali was declared the victor when Frazier’s corner called a halt to the bout after 14 brutal rounds.
The final performances of Ali’s ring career were sad to behold. In 1978 he lost his title to Leon Spinks, a novice boxer with an Olympic gold medal but only seven professional fights to his credit. Seven months later Ali regained the championship with a 15-round victory over Spinks. Then he retired from boxing, but two years later he made an ill-advised comeback and suffered a horrible beating at the hands of Larry Holmes in a bout that was stopped after 11 rounds. The final ring contest of Ali’s career was a loss by decision to Trevor Berbick in 1981.
Ali’s place in boxing history as one of the greatest fighters ever is secure. His final record of 56 wins and 5 losses with 37 knockouts has been matched by others, but the quality of his opponents and the manner in which he dominated during his prime placed him on a plateau with boxing’s immortals. Ali’s most-tangible ring assets were speed, superb footwork, and the ability to take a punch. But perhaps more important, he had courage and all the other intangibles that go into making a great fighter.
Ali’s later years were marked by physical decline. Damage to his brain caused by blows to the head resulted in slurred speech, slowed movement, and other symptoms of Parkinson syndrome. However, his condition differed from chronic encephalopathy, or dementia pugilistica (which is commonly referred to as “punch drunk” in fighters), in that he did not suffer from injury-induced intellectual deficits.
Ali’s religious views also evolved over time. In the mid-1970s he began to study the Qurʾān seriously and turned to Orthodox Islam. His earlier adherence to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad (e.g., that white people are “devils” and there is no heaven or hell) were replaced by a spiritual embrace of all people and preparation for his own afterlife. In 1984 Ali spoke out publicly against the separatist doctrine of Louis Farrakhan, declaring, “What he teaches is not at all what we believe in. He represents the time of our struggle in the dark and a time of confusion in us, and we don’t want to be associated with that at all.”
Ali married his fourth wife, Lonnie (née Yolanda Williams), in 1986. He had nine children, most of whom avoided the spotlight of which Ali was so fond. One of his daughters, however, Laila Ali, pursued a career as a professional boxer during which she went undefeated in 24 bouts between 1999 and 2007 while capturing a number of titles in various weight classes.
In 1996 Ali was chosen to light the Olympic flame at the start of the Games of the XXVI Olympiad in Atlanta, Georgia. The outpouring of goodwill that accompanied his appearance confirmed his status as one of the most-beloved athletes in the world. The dramatic period of his life from 1964 to 1974 was the subject of the film Ali (2001), in which Will Smith starred as Ali. His life story is told in the documentary film I Am Ali (2014), which includes audio recordings that he made throughout his career and interviews with his intimates. Ali was a member of the inaugural class of the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990, and in 2005 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Muhammad Ali, the silver-tongued boxer and civil rights champion who famously proclaimed himself “The Greatest” and then spent a lifetime living up to the billing, is dead.
Ali died Friday at a Phoenix-area hospital, where he had spent the past few days being treated for respiratory complications, a family spokesman confirmed to NBC News. He was 74.
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Muhammad Ali Dies at Age 74
June 4, 201602:13
“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,” Bob Gunnell, a family spokesman, told NBC News.
Ali had suffered for three decades from Parkinson’s, a progressive neurological condition that slowly robbed him of both his verbal grace and his physical dexterity. A funeral service is planned in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.
His daughter Rasheda said early Saturday that the legend was “no longer suffering,” describing him as “daddy, my best friend and hero” as well as “the greatest man that ever lived.”
Photos: Float Like a Butterfly: Muhammad Ali’s Life in Pictures
Even as his health declined, Ali did not shy from politics or controversy, releasing a statement in December criticizing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. “We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda,” he said.
The remark bookended the life of a man who burst into the national consciousness in the early 1960s, when as a young heavyweight champion he converted to Islam and refused to serve in the Vietnam War, and became an emblem of strength, eloquence, conscience and courage. Ali was an anti-establishment showman who transcended borders and barriers, race and religion. His fights against other men became spectacles, but he embodied much greater battles.
Fighter and Thinker: the Two Sides of Muhammad Ali
June 4, 201601:16
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay on Jan. 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, to middle-class parents, Ali started boxing when he was 12, winning Golden Gloves titles before heading to the 1960 Olympics in Rome, where he won a gold medal as a light heavyweight.
He turned professional shortly afterward, supported at first by Louisville business owners who guaranteed him an unprecedented 50-50 split in earnings. His knack for talking up his own talents — often in verse — earned him the dismissive nickname “the Louisville Lip,” but he backed up his talk with action, relocating to Miami to work with top trainer Angelo Dundee and build a case for getting a shot at the heavyweight title.
Muhammad Ali, right, attacks Alex Mitoff in the sixth round in which Ali clobbered the Argentinean to the canvas, on Oct. 7, 1961 in Louisville, Ky.H.B. Littell / AP, file
As his profile rose, Ali acted out against American racism. After he was refused services at a soda fountain counter, he said, he threw his Olympic gold medal into a river.
Recoiling from the sport’s tightly knit community of agents and promoters, Ali found guidance instead from the Nation of Islam, an American Muslim sect that advocated racial separation and rejected the pacifism of most civil rights activism. Inspired by Malcolm X, one of the group’s leaders, he converted in 1963. But he kept his new faith a secret until the crown was safely in hand.
Related: ‘Blood Brothers’: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X
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That came the following year, when heavyweight champion Sonny Liston agreed to fight Ali. The challenger geared up for the bout with a litany of insults and rhymes, including the line, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” He beat the fearsome Liston in a sixth-round technical knockout before a stunned Miami Beach crowd. In the ring, Ali proclaimed, “I am the greatest! I am the greatest! I’m the king of the world.”
Muhammad Ali Celebrated at Compelling, Affectionate New Exhibition
March 3, 201601:07
A Controversial Champion
The new champion soon renounced Cassius Clay as his “slave name” and said he would be known from then on as Muhammad Ali — bestowed by Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad. He was 22 years old.
The move split sports fans and the broader American public: an American sports champion rejecting his birth name and adopting one that sounded subversive.
Speaking at a press conference in Chicago on Sept. 25, 1970, deposed world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali “Cassius Clay” said he might fight Jerry Quarry in New York if Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox succeeds in halting the scheduled Atlanta bout.Charles Kolenovsky / AP, file
Ali successfully defended his title six times, including a rematch with Liston. Then, in 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, Ali was drafted to serve in the U.S. Army.
He’d said previously that the war did not comport with 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.”
His stand culminated with an April appearance at an Army recruiting station, where he refused to step forward when his name was called. The reaction was swift and harsh. He was stripped of his boxing title, convicted of draft evasion and sentenced to five years in prison.
Released on appeal but unable to fight or leave the country, Ali turned to the lecture circuit, speaking on college campuses, where he engaged in heated debates, pointing out the hypocrisy of denying rights to blacks even as they were ordered to fight the country’s battles abroad.
“My enemy is the white people, not Vietcongs or Chinese or Japanese,” Ali told one white student who challenged his draft avoidance. “You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. You won’t even stand up for me in America for my religious beliefs and you want me to go somewhere and fight but you won’t even stand up for me here at home.”
Muhammad Ali is held back by referee Joe Walcott, left, after Ali knocked out challenger Sonny Liston in the first round of their title fight in Lewiston, Maine on May 25, 1965.AP, file
Ali’s fiery commentary was praised by antiwar activists and black nationalists and vilified by conservatives, including many other athletes and sportswriters.
His appeal took four years to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, which in June 1971 reversed the conviction in a unanimous decision that found the Department of Justice had improperly told the draft board that Ali’s stance wasn’t motivated by religious belief.
Return to the Ring
Toward the end of his legal saga, Georgia agreed to issue Ali a boxing license, which allowed him to fight Jerry Quarry, whom he beat. Six months later, at a sold-out Madison Square Garden, he lost to Joe Frazier in a 15-round duel touted as “the fight of the century.” It was Ali’s first defeat as a pro.
That fight began one of boxing’s and sport’s greatest rivalries. Ali and Frazier fought again in 1974, after Frazier had lost his crown. This time, Ali won in a unanimous decision, making him the lead challenger for the heavyweight title.
He took it from George Foreman later that year in a fight in Zaire dubbed “The Rumble in the Jungle,” a spectacularly hyped bout for which Ali moved to Africa for the summer, followed by crowds of chanting locals wherever he went. A three-day music festival featuring James Brown and B.B. King preceded the fight. Finally, Ali delivered a historic performance in the ring, employing a new strategy dubbed the “rope-a-dope,” goading the favored Foreman into attacking him, then leaning back into the ropes in a defensive stance and waiting for Foreman to tire. Ali then went on the attack, knocking out Foreman in the eighth round. The maneuver has been copied by many other champions since.
The third fight in the Ali-Frazier trilogy followed in 1975, the “Thrilla in Manila” that is now regarded as one of the best boxing matches of all time. Ali won in a technical knockout in the 15th round.
Ali successfully defended his title until 1978, when he was beaten by a young Leon Spinks, and then quickly took it back. He retired in 1979, when he was 37, but, seeking to replenish his dwindling personal fortune, returned in 1980 for a title match against Larry Holmes, which he lost. Ali lost again, to Trevor Berbick, the following year. Finally, Ali retired for good.
Muhammad Ali, right, takes a punch from Trevor Berbick, of Canada, during the first round of their 10-round bout in Nassau, Bahamas, in this Dec. 11, 1981 file photo.AP, file
‘He’s Human, Like Us’
The following year, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
“I’m in no pain,” he told The New York Times. “A slight slurring of my speech, a little tremor. Nothing critical. If I was in perfect health — if I had won my last two fights — if I had no problem, people would be afraid of me. Now they feel sorry for me. They thought I was Superman. Now they can go, ‘He’s human, like us. He has problems.’ ”
Even as his health gradually declined, Ali — who switched to more mainstream branches of Islam — threw himself into humanitarian causes, traveling to Lebanon in 1985 and Iraq in 1990 to seek the release of American hostages. In 1996, he lit the Olympic flame in Atlanta, lifting the torch with shaking arms. With each public appearance he seemed more feeble, a stark contrast to his outsized aura. He continued to be one of the most recognizable people in the world.
He traveled incessantly for many years, crisscrossing the globe in appearances in which he made money but also pushed philanthropic causes. He met with presidents, royalty, heads of state, the Pope. He told “People” magazine that his largest regret was not playing a more intimate role in the raising of his children. But he said he did not regret boxing. “If I wasn’t a boxer, I wouldn’t be famous,” he said. “If I wasn’t famous, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now.”
Muhammad Ali attends the Sports For Peace Fundraising Ball at The V&A on July 25, 2012 in London.Ian Gavan / Getty Images, file
In 2005, President George W. Bush honored Ali with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and his hometown of Louisville opened the Muhammad Ali Center, chronicling his life but also as a forum for promoting tolerance and respect.
Divorced three times and the father of nine children — one of whom, Laila, become a boxer — Ali married his last wife, Yolanda “Lonnie” Williams, in 1986; they lived for a long time in Berrien Springs, Michigan, then moved to Arizona.
In recent years, Ali’s health began to suffer dramatically. There was a death scare in 2013, and last year he was rushed to the hospital after being found unresponsive. He recovered and returned to his new home in Arizona.
In his final years, Ali was barely able to speak. Asked to share his personal philosophy with NPR in 2009, Ali let his wife read his essay:
“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.”
Muhammad Ali, the three-time heavyweight champion who proclaimed himself “the Greatest”, defied the US government over the Vietnam war, and later became one of the most well-known – and loved – sportsmen in history has died. He was 74.
Ali died late on Friday at a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, the family’s spokesperson Bob Gunnell said. His funeral will take place in his home town of Louisville, Kentucky.
Ali was admitted to hospital on Thursday with a respiratory problem – a move that was described at the time as “a precaution”. However, reports emerged 24 hours later which said he had been placed on a life support machine and his family “feared the worst”.
Ali had become increasingly frail since being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984, aged 42, and in recent years had limited his public appearances. Earlier this month his brother Rahman Ali revealed that the condition was so advanced he could barely speak or leave his house.
Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, stands over challenger Sonny Liston, in 1965. Photograph: John Rooney/AP
As a sportsman he will be remembered for many classic fights – in particular beating the fearsome Sonny Liston to become champion; the Fight of the Century and the Thrilla in Manilla against Joe Frazier, and the Rumble in the Jungle in 1974 when, at the age of 32, he surprised everyone bar himself by cutting down George Foreman in Kinshasa to regain back his title.
Paying tribute after his death, Foreman wrote: “Ali, Fraser and Foreman we were one guy. A part of me slipped away.”
Ali, left, takes on George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, in 1974. Photograph: -/AFP/Getty Images
He told the BBC: “Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest human beings I have ever met. No doubt he was one of the best people to have lived in this day and age.”
George Foreman on Muhammad Ali: he was truly beautiful – audio
Another former world heavyweight champion, Mike Tyson, wrote: “God came for his champion. So long great one.”
Tributes flooded in from the world of boxing, the wider sporting community and well beyond them. The former US president Bill Clinton described him as “courageous in the ring, inspiring to the young, compassionate to those in need, and strong and good-humoured in bearing the burden of his own health challenges”.
Ali is escorted from as US army facility after refusing army induction over his opposition to the Vietnam war. Photograph: Uncredited/AP
Ali’s influence out of the ring was no less marked. Having appalled white America by converting to the Nation of Islam and changing his name from Cassius Clay to Cassius X and then to Muhammad Ali, he later refused to be drafted into the army, telling reporters: “Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.”
In 1967, still unbeaten and with no obvious challenger in sight, Ali was stripped of his titles and for three-and-a-half years had to scrape a living making campus speeches and appearing on Broadway. He lost his best years as a fighter yet as the opposition to Vietnam war grew, so did Ali’s popularity. By the mid 1970s he was the biggest sports star on the planet.
Grace and speed
In his physical prime, a decade earlier, Ali had such grace and foot speed that watching him perform almost became an extension of the balletic arts. He won Olympic light-heavyweight gold as an 18-year-old at the Rome Olympics and four years later, in 1964, he won the heavyweight title for the first time by stopping Liston in a major upset. Challengers were dispatched with a surgical beauty, although there was a vicious streak to him too: when Ernie Terrell called him by his birth name, Cassius Clay, Ali shouted at him “What’s my name?” as he inflicted a terrible beating.
FILE: Muhammad Ali Dies At 74
FILE – JUNE 03: Boxing legend and humanitarian Muhammad Ali at a a session of the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2008 in New York. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
In 1971, within five months of his return in 1970, he earned a shot at his old title against Frazier, but no longer was he as elusive or brilliant. A thrilling contest ended with Ali suffering his first defeat, on points, after being dropped by a left hook in the 15th round.
A loss to the fit but limited Ken Norton appeared to confirm Ali’s decline – until, in 1974, he knocked out Foreman after using what he called “rope-a-dope”; lying on the ropes to conserve energy as his opponent punched himself out. Later, when Ali was asked when he should have retired, he admitted it was after that fight.
Referee Zack Clayton calls the count over Ali’s opponent George Foreman, at the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’. Photograph: AP
But he ploughed on, to a desperately gruelling decider with Frazier in Manilla which he won after Frazier’s trainer Eddie Futch pulled his man out before the 15th round. Ali would later call it the closest thing to dying he could imagine.
In 1978, after winning the title for a third time by avenging a loss to Leon Spinks, Ali retired. When he dragged himself back into the ring in 1980 to face his old sparring partner Larry Holmes, aged 38, he was probably in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Tests carried out by the Mayo Clinic found he couldn’t hop on one foot well and had trouble co-ordinating his speech.
After a final fight, against Trevor Berbick in 1981, he retired but three years later Parkinson’s disease was diagnosed. By the end of the decade the speech of the man once dubbed “the Louisville Lip” for brash predictions before fights was reduced to a mumble.
Ali was well enough to light the torch to start the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, though his hands shook as a result of the disease taking further hold. After that there was further retreat into privacy and prayer.
But even in death his legacy burns on.
Boxing great Muhammad Ali died three years ago on June 3, 2016, in Scottsdale, Ariz., after a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease.
He was 74.
Challenger Cassius Clay throws a straight left to the face of Charles “Sonny” Liston in third round of their heavyweight championship fight at Convention Hall in Miami Beach, Fla., on Feb. 25, 1964. The 22-year-old Clay, of Louisville, Ky., defeated Liston in a technical knockout to become the world heavyweight champion. (AP Photo)ASSOCIATED PRESS
Ali, who called himself “The Greatest,” was born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Ky., on Jan. 17, 1942. He changed his name in 1964 after joining the Nation of Islam.
After winning a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics as part of the U.S. Olympic boxing team, he went on to win the first of three heavyweight titles in 1964 at age 22.
Ali is the only heavyweight fighter to win the title three times.
Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali stands over fallen challenger Sonny Liston, shouting and gesturing shortly after dropping Liston with a short hard right to the jaw on May 25, 1965, in Lewiston, Maine. The bout lasted only one minute into the first round. Ali is the only man ever to win the world heavyweight boxing championship three times. He also won a gold medal in the light-heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympic Games in Rome as a member of the U.S. Olympic boxing team. In 1964 he dropped the name Cassius Clay and adopted the Muslim name Muhammad Ali. (AP Photo/John Rooney)AP
In his 21-year career he won 56 times.
He was convicted in 1967 for refusing to be inducted into the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. He was sentenced to five years in prison and his passport was revoked. He was stripped of his heavyweight title and banned from boxing for three years. He was able to stay out of prison during his appeals. His conviction was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Oct. 26, 1970, he returned to the boxing ring, according to history.com, knocking out Jerry Quarry in Atlanta.
Heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali at the Wilbur Chocolate Co. in Lititz, Pa., on August 21, 1978 where he introduced his new candy bar. (AP Photo/Prouser)AP
Ali reclaimed his heavyweight title in 1974 by knocking out George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle” in Kinshasa, Zaire. In 1978 Ali lost the title to Leon Spinks but then won it back later in the year.
In 1979 he announced he was retiring but then fought heavyweight champion Larry Holmes on Oct. 2, 1980. Ali was knocked out by Holmes. Ali lost a fight in 1981 to Trevor Berbick and finally retired. His record was 56-5.
Muhammad Ali training at Deer Lake, Pa., on Wednesday, August 23, 1973, in preparation for his return match with Ken Norton. (AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy)AP
In June of 1971 Ali purchased property in northeast Pennsylvania where he built his Deer Lake training camp. The camp includes a training complex and a dozen cabins. Ali sold it in 1997. In 2018 it was purchased by Mike Madden, son of NFL Hall of Fame coaching legend, John Madden. Madden has been restoring the camp. The camp is named “Fighter’s Heaven.”
On July 13, 1980, Patriot-News photographers captured Ali and his family enjoying a day at Hersheypark.
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Cassius Clay arrived at the Rome 1960 Olympic Games as a relatively unknown 18-year-old. He had a terrific amateur resume and was considered the United States’ best hope to win a gold medal in boxing, but there was little to suggest that his four victories would launch a career of a world champion boxer as well as a world-class activist and philanthropist.
At one point in the months leading to the Games, it appeared Clay might not even make it to Europe. Even after being convinced to fly from Louisville to San Francisco for the U.S. Olympic Trials, Clay still hated flying and told his longtime trainer that he would rather skip the trip than get on a plane for another long flight.
Eventually, though, Clay was persuaded – but first he purchased a parachute and and strapped it to his back for the flight.
Clay breezed through the Olympic competition, with three unanimous decisions and one knockout, including victories over two 1956 medal winners. Gregarious inside the ring and out, Clay also was a hit in the Olympic Village, shaking hands and exchanging pins.
Clay turned professional after The Olympics and in 1964 beat Sonny Liston to become heavyweight champion. Soon after, Clay changed his name to Cassius X and then he converted to Islam, changing his name to Muhammad Ali. In 1966, he refused to serve in the U.S. military because of his objection to the Vietnam War, beginning a crusade in which he brought attention to various causes but preventing him from boxing for the next three years as various sanctioning bodies denied him a license. In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Ali’s conviction of violating the Selective Service.
Ali continued his boxing career with several high-profile bouts, reclaiming the world heavyweight championship. He also traveled the world to promote peace and help those who needed it. And he remained involved in the Olympic movement. At the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, Ali was the final torch bearer and lit the Olympic Flame. At the London 2012 Olympic Games, Ali was among a group that escorted the Olympic Flag into the stadium for the Opening Ceremony.
Ali passed away on June 3, 2016, after battling Parkinson’s Disease. He was 74.
Ali was born on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. His birth name was Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.
At an early age, young Clay showed that he wasn’t afraid of any bout — inside or outside of the ring. Growing up in the segregated South, he experienced racial prejudice and discrimination firsthand.
At the age of 12, Clay discovered his talent for boxing through an odd twist of fate. After his bike was stolen, Clay told a police officer, Joe Martin, that he wanted to beat up the thief.
“Well, you better learn how to fight before you start challenging people,” Martin reportedly told him at the time. In addition to being a police officer, Martin also trained young boxers at a local gym.
Clay started working with Martin to learn how to spar and soon began his boxing career. In his first amateur bout in 1954, he won the fight by split decision.
Clay went on to win the 1956 Golden Gloves tournament for novices in the light heavyweight class. Three years later, he won the National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions, as well as the Amateur Athletic Union’s national title for the light heavyweight division.
Muhammad Ali’s Life in Photos
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In 1960, Clay won a spot on the U.S. Olympic boxing team, and traveled to Rome, Italy, to compete. At six feet, three inches tall, Clay was an imposing figure in the ring, but he also became known for his lightning speed and fancy footwork. After winning his first three bouts, Clay defeated Zbigniew Pietrzkowski of Poland to win the light heavyweight Olympic gold medal.
After his Olympic victory, Clay was heralded as an American hero. He soon turned professional with the backing of the Louisville Sponsoring Group and continued overwhelming all opponents in the ring.
Conversion to Islam
Clay joined the black Muslim group Nation of Islam in 1964. At first, he called himself Cassius X before settling on the name Muhammad Ali. The boxer eventually converted to orthodox Islam during the 1970s.
Vietnam and Supreme Court Case
Ali started a different kind of fight with his outspoken views against the Vietnam War.
Drafted into the military in April 1967, he refused to serve on the grounds that he was a practicing Muslim minister with religious beliefs that prevented him from fighting. He was arrested for committing a felony and almost immediately stripped of his world title and boxing license.
The U.S. Department of Justice pursued a legal case against Ali, denying his claim for conscientious objector status. He was found guilty of violating Selective Service laws and sentenced to five years in prison in June 1967 but remained free while appealing his conviction.
Unable to compete professionally in the meantime, Ali missed more than three prime years of his athletic career. Ali returned to the ring in 1970 with a win over Jerry Quarry, and the U.S. Supreme Court eventually overturned the conviction in June 1971.
Muhammad Ali: Record
Ali had a career record of 56 wins, five losses and 37 knockouts before his retirement from boxing in 1981 at the age of 39.
PHOTOS: Muhammad Ali’s Best Fight Moments
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Often referring to himself as “The Greatest,” Ali was not afraid to sing his own praises. He was known for boasting about his skills before a fight and for his colorful descriptions and phrases.
In one of his more famously quoted descriptions, Ali told reporters that he could “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” in the boxing ring. A few of his more well-known matches include the following:
After winning gold at the 1960 Olympics, Ali took out British heavyweight champion Henry Cooper in 1963. He then knocked out Sonny Liston in 1964 to become the heavyweight champion of the world.
In 1971, Ali took on Joe Frazier in what has been called the “Fight of the Century.” Frazier and Ali went toe-to-toe for 14 rounds before Frazier dropped Ali with a vicious left hook in the 15th. Ali recovered quickly, but the judges awarded the decision to Frazier, handing Ali his first professional loss after 31 wins.
After suffering a loss to Ken Norton, Ali beat Frazier in a 1974 rematch.
In 1975, Ali and Frazier locked horns again for their grudge match in Quezon City, Philippines. Dubbed the “Thrilla in Manila,” the bout nearly went the distance, with both men delivering and absorbing tremendous punishment. However, Frazier’s trainer threw in the towel after the 14th round, giving the hard-fought victory to Ali.
Another legendary Ali fight took place in 1974 against undefeated heavyweight champion George Foreman. Billed as the “Rumble in the Jungle,” the bout was organized by promoter Don King and held in Kinshasa, Zaire.
For once, Ali was seen as the underdog to the younger, massive Foreman, but he silenced his critics with a masterful performance. He baited Foreman into throwing wild punches with his “rope-a-dope” technique, before stunning his opponent with an eighth-round knockout to reclaim the heavyweight title.
After losing his title to Leon Spinks in February 1978, Ali defeated him in a September 1978 rematch, becoming the first boxer to win the heavyweight championship three times.
Following a brief retirement, Ali returned to the ring to face Larry Holmes in 1980 but was overmatched against the younger champion.
Following one final loss in 1981, to Trevor Berbick, the boxing great retired from the sport at age 39.
Spouse and Children
Ali was married four times and had nine children, including two children he fathered outside of marriage.
Ali married his first wife, Sonji Roi, in 1964; they divorced after one year when she refused to adopt the Nation of Islam dress and customs.
Ali married his second wife, 17-year-old Belinda Boyd, in 1967. Boyd and Ali had four children together: Maryum, born in 1969; Jamillah and Liban, both born in 1970; and Muhammad Ali Jr.; born in 1972. Boyd and Ali divorced in 1976.
At the same time Ali was married to Boyd, he traveled openly with Veronica Porche, who became his third wife in 1977. The pair had two daughters together, including Laila Ali, who followed in Ali’s footsteps by becoming a champion boxer. Porche and Ali divorced in 1986.
Ali married his fourth and final wife Yolanda (“Lonnie”) in 1986. The pair had known each other since Lonnie was just six and Ali was 21; their mothers were best friends and raised their families on the same street. Ali and Lonnie couple remained married until his death and had one son together, Asaad.
The real reason Muhammad Ali converted to Islam
Jonathan Eig, the author of the biography “Ali,” about boxer Muhammad Ali, holds a letter that Ali wrote to his wife, Khalilah Camacho-Ali, detailing his conversion to Islam, in front of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. (Allison Shelley for The Washington Post) By Jonathan Eig October 26, 2017
Muhammad Ali’s conversion to Islam, in many ways, defined his career and legacy as a fighter with conviction. He went on to become an icon for American Muslims.
Just years following his conversion in 1964, he got in a fight that prompted him to write down some reflections on what drew him to the faith in the first place.
It wasn’t a fight in the boxing ring, but an argument at home with his wife, Belinda.
Ali was out of control, Belinda said. He had lost all traces of humility. He was acting like he was God. You may call yourself the greatest, she told him, but you’ll never be greater than Allah.
Like a schoolteacher, Belinda instructed Ali to sit down and write an essay. She asked him to write about why he became a Muslim. Ali obliged, taking out blank sheets of paper and a blue pen and beginning to write.
Jonathan Eig, left, the author of the biography “Ali,” tours the Muhammad Ali exhibition with curator Paul Gardullo at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. (Allison Shelley for The Washington Post)
Belinda now goes by the name Khalilah Camacho-Ali. When I interviewed her for my biography of the legendary boxer, she gave me the essay. On Wednesday, I took it to the National Museum of African American History and Culture to see whether curators would include it in their collection.
I think it belongs there — not only because it reveals a great deal about Ali’s character, but also because it teaches us about the religious life of one of the country’s best-known African American athletes and activists. His story reminds us that even the most powerful spiritual journeys can have humble beginnings.
In the letter, Ali writes of his teenage days in Louisville when he was still known as Cassius Clay Jr. He says he was leaving a roller skating rink and scanning the sidewalk for pretty girls when he noticed a man in a black mohair suit selling newspapers for the Nation of Islam.
Ali had heard of the Nation and its leader, Elijah Muhammad, but he had never given serious thought to joining the group, which used some elements of Islam to preach black separatism and self-improvement.
Ali took a newspaper, mostly to be polite, but a cartoon caught his eye. It showed a white slave owner beating his black slave and insisting the man pray to Jesus. The message was that Christianity was a religion forced on slaves by the white establishment. “I liked that cartoon,” Ali wrote. “It did something to me. And it made sense.”
It’s interesting that Ali didn’t answer his wife by writing in spiritual terms about why Islam attracted him. He wrote about it with pragmatism. The cartoon awakened him, and he realized that he hadn’t chosen Christianity. He hadn’t chosen the name Cassius Clay. So why did he have to keep those vestiges of slavery? And if he didn’t have to keep his religion or his name, what else could he change?
In 1964, when he won the heavyweight championship, he publicly declared his conversion and made a personal declaration of independence: “I believe in Allah and in peace,” he said. “I don’t try to move into white neighborhoods. I don’t want to marry a white woman. I was baptized when I was 12, but I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m not a Christian anymore. I know where I’m going and I know the truth and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.”
In the years that followed, Ali continued to explore his religious views. He didn’t always have a clear philosophy. He didn’t always live up to the principles he espoused. But he never stopped asking questions.
When Elijah Muhammad died and the Nation of Islam remade itself, Ali embraced orthodox Islam. He studied the Koran.
As Parkinson’s disease slowed his speech and made it more difficult for him to entertain fans, he would sometimes invite admirers to join him for long religious discussions. He loved comparing the Bible and the Koran. He often said God didn’t care about him for his boxing; God cared only about whether he had been a good person and lived up to the responsibilities that came with being a believer.
I’m not prepared to give Camacho-Ali all the credit, but it strikes me that the writing assignment she gave him was a good one. Religion demands that we constantly ask questions, not just accept things because they’ve been handed down to us. Ali’s essay reminds us of that.
Ali acknowledged that his religious journey began with a search for pretty girls and took a turn with a newspaper cartoon. It’s hardly the stuff of legend. But it’s better than legend, really, because it’s true.
Jonathan Eig is the author of “Ali: A Life.”
THIS DAY IN HISTORY
On April 28, 1967, boxing champion Muhammad Ali refuses to be inducted into the U.S. Army and is immediately stripped of his heavyweight title. Ali, a Muslim, cited religious reasons for his decision to forgo military service.
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., in Louisville, Kentucky, on January 14, 1942, the future three-time world champ changed his name to Muhammad Ali in 1964 after converting to Islam. He scored a gold medal at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome and made his professional boxing debut against Tunney Husaker on October 29, 1960, winning the bout in six rounds. On February 25, 1964, he defeated the heavily favored bruiser Sonny Liston in six rounds to become heavyweight champ.
On April 28, 1967, with the United States at war in Vietnam, Ali refused to be inducted into the armed forces, saying “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.” On June 20, 1967, Ali was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years. He stayed out of prison as his case was appealed and returned to the ring on October 26, 1970, knocking out Jerry Quarry in Atlanta in the third round. On March 8, 1971, Ali fought Joe Frazier in the “Fight of the Century” and lost after 15 rounds, the first loss of his professional boxing career. On June 28 of that same year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction for evading the draft.
At a January 24, 1974, rematch at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, Ali defeated Frazier by decision in 12 rounds. On October 30 of that same year, an underdog Ali bested George Foreman and reclaimed his heavyweight champion belt at the hugely hyped “Rumble in the Jungle” in Kinshasa, Zaire, with a knockout in the eighth round. On October 1, 1975, Ali met Joe Frazier for a third time at the “Thrilla in Manila” in the Philippines and defeated him in 14 rounds. On February 15, 1978, Ali lost the title to Leon Spinks in a 15-round split decision. However, seven months later, on September 15, Ali won it back. In June 1979, Ali announced he was retiring from boxing. He returned to the ring on October 2, 1980, and fought heavyweight champ Larry Holmes, who knocked him out in the 11th round. After losing to Trevor Berbick on December 11, 1981, Ali left the ring for the final time, with a 56-5 record. He is the only fighter to be heavyweight champion three times. In 1984, it was revealed Ali had Parkinson’s disease.
Muhammad Ali, the legendary boxer and iconic public figure, died on Friday, June 3, at a hospital in the Phoenix area. He was 74.
The cause of Ali’s death was septic shock, according to a family spokeswoman. Ali had entered the hospital earlier on Friday due to a respiratory infection and was put on life support shortly before he died, according to CNN. Since 2014, Ali had also been hospitalized for a severe urinary tract infection and pneumonia.
He shook up the world, and the world’s better for it. Rest in peace, Champ. pic.twitter.com/z1yM3sSLH3
— President Obama (@POTUS44) June 4, 2016
The former boxer suffered from Parkinson’s disease for more than three decades, and in many ways became the face of the disease.
“He brought the average American’s attention to this disease,” Leslie Chambers, president and CEO of the American Parkinson Disease Association, told the New York Daily News. “We’re so grateful for him. In the long run, he’s helped our community in a tremendous way.”
Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1984, just three years after his final fight. He was 42 at the time of the diagnosis. Even before the diagnosis, however, Ali was experiencing symptoms, such as slurring of speech, tingling in his hands, and a slowness in his body.
In fact, just 10 weeks before a 1980 bout, a team of doctors at the Mayo Clinic submitted a report to the Nevada State Athletic Commission with details about a small hole in the outer layer of Ali’s brain, according to CNN.
Doctors have speculated that Ali’s Parkinson’s was caused by too many punches to the head, the New York Times reported. But his wife, Lonnie, has said the disease was brought on by exposure to pesticides and other toxic chemicals while he was at a training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.
In his prime, Ali was a towering giant both inside and outside the ring. He was a phenomenally gifted athlete whose outspokenness, bravado, and activism endeared him to millions. But Parkinson’s took its toll, slowly, on Ali, withering his body and affecting his speech.
The Greatest. His biggest win came not in the ring but in our courts in his fight for his beliefs. #MuhammadAli pic.twitter.com/3NKuxZNiAn
— Eric Holder (@EricHolder) June 4, 2016
He didn’t let the disease prevent him from traveling the world, speaking to audiences, conducting interviews and, in 1996, lighting the Olympic cauldron in Atlanta. He even made a public appearance in April at Celebrity Fight Night, a gala in Phoenix to raise money for Parkinson’s treatments. It was his last public appearance.
“Even though Muhammad has Parkinson’s and his speech isn’t what it used to be, he can speak to people with his eyes,” his wife said. “He can speak to people with his heart, and they connect with him.”
Michael Sebastian Michael Sebastian was named editor-in-chief of Esquire in June 2019 where he oversees print and digital content, strategy and operations.