NEW YORK, June 4 (APP): Known as ‘The Greatest,’ former three-time heavyweight boxing champion and cultural and civil rights icon Muhammad Ali has died. He was 74.
The iconic Louisville native, born Cassius Clay Jr, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in the mid-1980s. He was taken to a Phoenix hospital in Arizona this week suffering from respiratory problems.
Arguably the most famous athlete on Earth, Ali won millions of fans around the world, including Pakistajn, which he visited in 1988. The man who would “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” won the 1960 Olympic gold medal and remains the only fighter to win the heavyweight belt three different times.
He first won it in 1964 as a 7-1 underdog against Sonny Liston; regained the title in 1974 against George Foreman in the famous Rumble in the Jungle match-up; and won it again in 1978 by beating Leon Spinks, who had scored a surprise victory over Ali earlier that year. His three fights against and long-running feud with “Smokin’” Joe Frazier became the stuff of legend.
Ali retired from the ring in 1979, though he returned for losses to Larry Holmes and Trevor Burbick in the early 1980s.
The boxer had a total of 61 fights in his career, winning 56 of them “ 37 by knockout” and became a global superstar.
But Ali’s fame extends far beyond the sweet science. In addition to being a civil rights activist and a sometimes-reviled conscientious objector to the war in Vietnam, Ali redefined what it meant to be an American athlete, especially an African-American athlete.
Deprived of his title in 1967 because of his religious beliefs as a Muslim and his stance on the war in Southeast Asia, Ali took his case all the way to to the Supreme Court in Clay v. United States.
As detailed in HBO’s Stephen Frears-directed 2013 movie Muhammad Ali’s Great Fight, the former champ saw the justices vote 8-0 to overturn his conviction on June 28, 1971. While he was already fighting in jurisdictions that granted him a boxing license, the SCOTUS win allowed Ali to fully return to the ring to reclaim his title.
The change in attitudes toward Ali over the decades came after his fight career, when he became a tireless human rights ambassador and philanthropist whose impact was felt worldwide. He was invited to the White House several times in his later career and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. In 1999, the BBC proclaimed Ali the Sports Personality of the Century.
It one of the most iconic moments in recent Olympics “ TV “ history, Ali received thundering applause when he made a surprise rare appearance to light the Olympic flame during the Opening Ceremony of the 1996 Atlanta Games.