Muhammad Ali, ‘The Greatest of All Time’, Dead at 74

June 4, 2016

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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.

“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 Disease, a progressive neurological condition that slowly robbed him of both his legendary verbal grace and his physical dexterity. A funeral service is planned in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

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.

Born Cassius 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.

The life of Muhammad Ali

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Early years

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali was born on January 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky under the name Cassius Clay. He began boxing at the age of 12, and quickly found success as an amateur fighter.

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America’s Olympic champion

During the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Italy, Clay captured the gold medal for the U.S. team in the light heavyweight division by defeating Poland’s Zbigniew Pietrzkowski in the final.

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“Sting like a bee”

Following the Olympics, Clay became a professional boxer and stormed through the heavyweight division capturing the title by defeating Sonny Liston in 1964.

Shortly after, the champ joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali.

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Refusing the draft

Ali was drafted into the military in 1967, but refused to go to war. As a result, he was arrested and found guilty of draft evasion.

“The Greatest” was stripped of his title and missed several years of fighting until his conviction was overturned on appeal by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971.

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Fight of the Century

Following Ali’s return to the ring, he fought in a legendary series of matches against the undefeated Joe Frazier.

Frazier won the first fight, but Ali came back to win both the second and third fights. The final battle in the trilogy was best known as the “Thrilla in Manila.”

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Ali vs. Foreman

One of the most notable matches in boxing history, better known as the “Rumble in the Jungle,” Ali regained his title by defeating heavyweight champion George Foreman on October 30, 1974 in Zaire.

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After boxing

Following the end of his boxing career, Ali became heavily involved in philanthropy and public service even as he battled Parkinson’s disease.

In 2005, President George W. Bush awarded Ali the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a ceremony at the White House.

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 train with the legendary trainer Angelo Dundee and build a case for getting a shot at the heavyweight title.