Muhammad Ali said he was the greatest and soon enough, he got the whole world to believe him. The charismatic three-time heavyweight boxing champion of the world and Olympic gold medalist who emerged over time as a symbol of political and racial protest is dead at the age of 74.
He was undoubtedly one of the most compelling and inspiring personalities of his age, making his loss a blow to the entire world. He died on Friday night at a hospital in Phoenix where he had been living. Muhammad Ali had been hospitalized with respiratory problems related to Parkinson’s disease, which had been diagnosed in the 1980s. His death has been confirmed by Associated Press and other news outlets.
Ali dominated boxing all through the 1960s and 1970s, taking the heavyweight title three times, that long career in the ring however took a drastic toll on his physical health. He was so well loved that in 2005, George W. Bush bestowed upon him the Presidential Medal of Freedom and poll upon poll recorded that he was regarded as the most influential sportsman of the century. It had however not always been that way. When he first entered the world of boxing in 1960 named Cassius Clay, he was considered an unbearable loud mouth.
He would taunt and brag about his opponents defeats and was so showy in the ring that his fights were among the most memorable and spectacular in history. His announcement of both his name change and his integration into the Nation of Islam shot up his popularity by many notches.
Muhammad Ali’s personal life was also a flurry of activity. He married first – Sonji Roi, in 1964 (dissolved 1966). He married secondly – Belinda Boyd, in 1967 (dissolved 1976); they had three daughters and a son. He married thirdly – Veronica Porche, in 1977 (dissolved 1986); they had four daughters. He married fourthly, in 1986, Yolanda (“Lonnie”) Williams; they adopted a son. Ali’s youngest daughter Laila is a woman boxer and was (at her retirement in 2007) the unbeaten super-middleweight champion of the world.
Ali’s health troubles severely diminished him, but even in that state, he stood as a symbol of understanding and hope, he really had a presence that made him seem more an international religious leader than a retired athlete. It’s no wonder that tributes for him continue to pour in from all corners of the world as everyone remembers the legend that was Muhammad Ali.