Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest sports and cultural icons in American history, died late Friday night in a Phoenix area hospital at the age of 74. He had suffered from Parkinson’s syndrome for many years.
An Olympic boxing gold medalist in 1960 in Rome who went on to win the heavyweight title three times, Ali used his sports fame as a platform to touch on religion, politics and culture during the turbulent 1960’s and 1970’s, including a stance against fighting in the Vietnam War that cost him three of his prime years in the ring. The New York Times called Ali “as polarizing a superstar as the sports world has ever produced.”
— Muhammad Ali (@MuhammadAli) June 4, 2016
In 1964, Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, shocked the sports world as a 7-1 underdog when he defeated Sonny Liston in Miami Beach to become heavyweight champion at the age of 22. One of the pioneers of “trash talking” in sports, Ali coined the phrase “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” before defeating the hard-punching Liston, who failed to answer the seventh round, and then declared himself as “The Greatest.”
Shortly after defeating Liston, he announced he was a member of the Nation of Islam and had adopted a Muslim name.
“Cassius Clay is a slave name,” he said. “I didn’t choose it and I don’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name — it means ‘beloved of God’ — and I insist people use it when people speak to me and of me.”
The day he was classified as eligible for the Vietnam draft in 1966, he voiced his opposition to the war.
“I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong,” he said.
In 1967, Ali, called a traitor by many in the media, was convicted of violating the Selective Service Act, sentenced to five years in prison and fined $10,000. His boxing license was revoked, and he was stripped of his titles.
While his case was appealed, Ali lectured on college campuses where he was greeted as a hero for being willing to sacrifice his income and stature in opposition to the war. On June 28, 1971, he won a unanimous decision against the Justice Department in the U.S. Supreme Court and the charges of draft evasion were dropped.
Ali finished 56-5 in 21 years as a professional, including winning the famed “Thrilla in Manila” with Joe Frazier and the “Rumble in the Jungle” in Kinshasa, Zaire where he unveiled his “rope-a-dope” tactic en route to upsetting George Foreman for the heavyweight crown in 1974.
Ali lit the flame at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and went on to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, from President George W. Bush, in 2005.
Ali watched grandson Biaggio Ali Walsh score a pair of touchdowns in Bishop Gorman’s 70-28 victory over Reed in NIAA Division I state title game at Damonte Ranch High School in Reno on Dec. 6, 2014 in one of his final public appearances in Nevada. Check out the video below.
Biaggio Ali Walsh, one of the top running back prospects for the Class of 2017, tweeted out that he is dedicating his senior season to his famous grandfather.
Thank you everyone for your prayers and condolences. My senior football season is dedicated to my grandfather.. RIP to my Poppy…
— BIAGGIO ALI WALSH (@BiaggioAli1234) June 4, 2016
Today, the world lost a legend.
— Caesars Palace (@CaesarsPalace) June 4, 2016
Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali. (1973) pic.twitter.com/pJZ0aA2zSH
— Boxing Trivia Guy (@BoxingTriviaGuy) June 4, 2016