Muhammad Ali, the legendary boxer who proclaimed himself “The Greatest” and was among the most famous and beloved athletes on the planet, died Friday in Arizona, a family spokesman said.
Ali had been at HonorHealth Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center in Scottsdale since Thursday with what spokesman Bob Gunnell had described as a respiratory issue.
“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,” Gunnell said in a statement. “The Ali family would like to thank everyone for their thoughts, prayers, and support and asks for privacy at this time.”
Ali’s daughter Hana Ali said her father was a “humble mountain.”
“And now he has gone home to God. God bless you daddy. YOU ARE THE LOVE OF MY LIFE!” she tweeted.
In a separate tweet, Hana Ali said his children surrounded Ali in his final moments, holding his hands, hugging and kissing him and chanting Islamic prayer. She wrote that some whispered in his ear, “You can go now. We will be okay. We love you. Thank you. You can go back to God now.”
After Ali’s organs failed, his daughter wrote in the tweet, his heart continued to beat for another 30 minutes: “A true testament to the strength of his Spirit and Will!”
Tributes from around the world
While touching tributes to Ali were pouring in from world leaders, fellow athletes and just regular folk, the boxing great had already addressed how he wanted the world to think about him after his death.
In his book “The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life’s Journey,” Ali said he wanted to be remembered as “a man who won the heavyweight title three times, who was humorous, and who treated everyone right. As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him, and who helped as many people as he could. As a man who stood up for his beliefs no matter what. As a man who tried to unite all humankind through faith and love.”
He added, ” And if all that’s too much, then I guess I’d settle for being remembered only as a great boxer who became a leader and a champion of his people, And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was.”
President Barack Obama said he and first lady Michelle Obama mourn Ali’s passing.
“But we’re also grateful to God for how fortunate we are to have known him, if just for a while; for how fortunate we all are that The Greatest chose to grace our time,” the Obamas said in a statement.
The President said he has a pair of Ali’s gloves on display in his private study off of the Oval Office, beneath a photograph of the legend.
Obama said Ali “fought for us.”
“He stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn’t. His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing. It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled, and nearly send him to jail. But Ali stood his ground. And his victory helped us get used to the America we recognize today,” the President said in a statement issued by the White House.
His hometown pauses to reflect
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, at a ceremony honoring Ali on Saturday, said the boxer “lived a life so big and bold, it’s hard to believe that any one man could do everything he did, could be all the things that he became in the course of just one lifetime.”
Fischer added, “Muhammad Ali belongs to the world, but he only has one hometown. The ‘Louisville Lip’ spoke to everyone, but we heard him in a way no one else could — as our brother, our uncle, and our inspiration.”
Don King, the boxing promoter who was every bit as brash as Ali, told CNN that in his mind Ali will never die.
“His spirit will go on forever,” he said. “He’s just a great human being, a champion of the people, the greatest of all time.”
Even as the former champ battled Parkinson’s disease, he had the same love for life and people, King said. Parkinson’s, which primarily affects a patient’s movement, is a “progressive disorder of the nervous system,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
The Ali sense of humor was displayed in an old photo tweeted by Oscar De La Hoya, who won titles in six weight classes.
“RIP @muhammadali, a legend who transcended sport and was a true champion for all. #thegreatest #MuhammadAli,” De La Hoya wrote above an image of Ali whose mischievous eyes proudly watched as his right hand made rabbit ears behind the “Golden Boy’s” head.