Muhammad Ali, the former world heavyweight boxing champion and one of sport’s most influential individuals, has died aged 74.
The sports hero, who had been battling Parkinson’s disease for decades, passed away in a hospital here where he had been admitted earlier this week suffering from respiratory problems.
Ali had been living in the Phoenix area with his fourth wife, Lonnie, whom he married in 1986. He was survived by nine children, seven daughters and two sons.
He took the name of Muhammad Ali after converting to Islam in 1964, soon after he had stunned the sport by claiming the title with a monumental upset of Liston.
He was vilified in some quarters for that conversion and his outspoken stance on Vietnam and civil rights issues. His refusal to fight in Vietnam saw him prosecuted for draft evasion, and led to him being effectively banned for boxing for three years of his prime.
Ali represented the United Nations as a messenger of peace and was chosen to light the Olympic torch in 1996, when he was already weakened by Parkinson’s.
He received the highest US civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2005.
Politicians, athletes and celebrities immediately flooded to social media to pay tribute to “The Greatest”. Ali was also described as a “humble mountain” and “the biggest and the best”.
He shook up the world, and the world’s better for it. Rest in peace, Champ. pic.twitter.com/z1yM3sSLH3
— President Obama (@POTUS) June 4, 2016
Muhammad Ali was the greatest, not only an extraordinary athlete but a man of great courage and humanity.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) June 4, 2016
Rest in Peace to the Champ, Muhammad Ali. pic.twitter.com/bTsvXqxXAf
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) June 4, 2016
— Gareth Bale (@GarethBale11) June 4, 2016
Pretty sure the word ‘GREAT’ was invented for one man …. #RIPMuhammadAli
— Michael Vaughan (@MichaelVaughan) June 4, 2016
George Foreman, beaten by Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle in 1974, has paid tribute to a boxer he calls a ‘phenomenon’, ‘He is one of those special people. He was one of those things you see maybe only once in a lifetime. He was the greatest personality that sports has ever seen, or ever will see. He was the greatest personality ever.’
Floyd Mayweather, who retired from boxing last year with a perfect 49-0 record said, ‘I didn’t really know what to say. I couldn’t believe it; I didn’t even want to show my true feelings and emotions of how I felt.
British Prime Minister David Cameron praised Ali, ‘A champion of civil rights, and a role model for so many people.’
India’s Narendra Modi said, ‘He was a source of inspiration who demonstrated the power of human spirit & determination.’
Rev Jesse Jackson, a longtime friend said, ‘He sacrificed the heart of his career and money and glory for his religious beliefs about a war he thought unnecessary and unjust. His memory and legacy lingers on until eternity. He scarified, the nation benefited. He was a champion in the ring, but, more than that, a hero beyond the ring. When champions win, people carry them off the field on their shoulders. When heroes win, people ride on their shoulders. We rode on Muhammad Ali’s shoulders.’