Boxing legend Muhammad Ali dies at age 74.

g9activated June 4, 2016 0

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Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali
stands over fallen challenger Sonny Liston,
shouting and gesturing shortly after
dropping Liston with a short hard right to
the jaw on May 25, 1965, in Lewiston,
Maine. The bout lasted only one minute
into the first round.⁠ JOHN ROONEY / AP
Muhammad Ali, the silver-tongued boxer
and civil rights champion who famously
proclaimed himself “The Greatest” and
then spent a lifetime living up to the
billing, is dead.
Ali died Friday at a Phoenix-area hospital,
where he had spent the past few days
being treated for respiratory complications,
a family spokesman confirmed to NBC
News. He was 74.
Muhammad Ali Dies at Age 74 2:12
“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,” Bob Gunnell, a family
spokesman, told NBC News.
Ali had suffered for three decades from
Parkinson’s Disease, a progressive
neurological condition that slowly robbed
him of both his legendary verbal grace and
his physical dexterity. A funeral service is
planned in his hometown of Louisville,
Kentucky.
Even as his health declined, Ali did not shy
from politics or controversy, releasing a
statement in December criticizing
Republican presidential candidate Donald
Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from
entering the United States. “We as
Muslims have to stand up to those who
use Islam to advance their own personal
agenda,” he said.
The remark bookended the life of a man
who burst into the national consciousness
in the early 1960s, when as a young
heavyweight champion he converted to
Islam and refused to serve in the Vietnam
War, and became an emblem of strength,
eloquence, conscience and courage. Ali
was an anti-establishment showman who
transcended borders and barriers, race and
religion. His fights against other men
became spectacles, but he embodied
much greater battles.
Born Cassius Clay on Jan. 17, 1942 in
Louisville, Kentucky, to middle-class
parents, Ali started boxing when he was
12, winning Golden Gloves titles before
heading to the 1960 Olympics in Rome,
where he won a gold medal as a light
heavyweight.
He turned professional shortly afterward,
supported at first by Louisville business
owners who guaranteed him an
unprecedented 50-50 split in earnings. His
knack for talking up his own talents —
often in verse — earned him the dismissive
nickname “the Louisville Lip,” but he
backed up his talk with action, relocating
to Miami to train with the legendary trainer
Angelo Dundee and build a case for getting
a shot at the heavyweight title.
As his profile rose, Ali acted out against
American racism. After he was refused
services at a soda fountain counter, he
said, he threw his Olympic gold medal into
a river.
Recoiling from the sport’s tightly knit
community of agents and promoters, Ali
found guidance instead from the Nation of
Islam, an American Muslim sect that
advocated racial separation and rejected
the pacifism of most civil rights activism.
Inspired by Malcolm X, one of the group’s
leaders, he converted in 1963. But he kept
his new faith a secret until the crown was
safely in hand.
That came the following year, when
heavyweight champion Sonny Liston
agreed to fight Ali. The challenger geared
up for the bout with a litany of insults and
rhymes, including the line, “float like a
butterfly, sting like a bee.” He beat the
fearsome Liston in a sixth-round technical
knockout before a stunned Miami Beach
crowd. In the ring, Ali proclaimed, “I am
the greatest! I am the greatest! I’m the
king of the world.”
A Controversial Champion
The new champion soon renounced
Cassius Clay as his “slave name” and said
he would be known from then on as
Muhammad Ali — bestowed by Nation of
Islam founder Elijah Muhammad. He was
22 years old.
The move split sports fans and the
broader American public: an American
sports champion rejecting his birth name
and adopting one that sounded subversive.
Ali successfully defended his title six
times, including a rematch with Liston.
Then, in 1967, at the height of the
Vietnam War, Ali was drafted to serve in
the U.S. Army.
He’d said previously that the war did not
comport with his faith, and that he had “no
quarrel” with America’s enemy, the
Vietcong. He refused to serve.
Speaking at a press conference in Chicago
on Sept. 25, 1970, deposed world
heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali
“Cassius Clay” said he might fight Jerry
Quarry in New York if Georgia Gov. Lester
Maddox succeeds in halting the scheduled
Atlanta bout.⁠ Charles Kolenovsky / AP,
file
“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my
brother, or some darker people, some poor,
hungry people in the mud, for big powerful
America, and shoot them for what?” Ali
said in an interview. “They never called
me nigger. They never lynched me. They
didn’t put no dogs on me.”
His stand culminated with an April
appearance at an Army recruiting station,
where he refused to step forward when his
name was called. The reaction was swift
and harsh. He was stripped of his boxing
title, convicted of draft evasion and
sentenced to five years in prison.
Released on appeal but unable to fight or
leave the country, Ali turned to the lecture
circuit, speaking on college campuses,
where he engaged in heated debates,
pointing out the hypocrisy of denying
rights to blacks even as they were ordered
to fight the country’s battles abroad.
“My enemy is the white people, not
Vietcongs or Chinese or Japanese,” Ali
told one white student who challenged his
draft avoidance. “You my opposer when I
want freedom. You my opposer when I
want justice. You my opposer when I want
equality. You won’t even stand up for me
in America for my religious beliefs and you
want me to go somewhere and fight but
you won’t even stand up for me here at
home.”
Ali’s fiery commentary was praised by
antiwar activists and black nationalists and
vilified by conservatives, including many
other athletes and sportswriters.
His appeal took four years to reach the
U.S. Supreme Court, which in June 1971
reversed the conviction in a unanimous
decision that found the Department of
Justice had improperly told the draft board
that Ali’s stance wasn’t motivated by
religious belief.
Return to the Ring
Toward the end of his legal saga, Georgia
agreed to issue Ali a boxing license, which
allowed him to fight Jerry Quarry, whom
he beat. Six months later, at a sold-out
Madison Square Garden, he lost to Joe
Frazier in a 15-round duel touted as “the
fight of the century.” It was Ali’s first
defeat as a pro.
That fight began one of boxing’s and
sport’s greatest rivalries. Ali and Frazier
fought again in 1974, after Frazier had lost
his crown. This time, Ali won in a
unanimous decision, making him the lead
challenger for the heavyweight title.
He took it from George Foreman later that
year in a fight in Zaire dubbed “The
Rumble in the Jungle,” a spectacularly
hyped bout for which Ali moved to Africa
for the summer, followed by crowds of
chanting locals wherever he went. A three-
day music festival featuring James Brown
and B.B. King preceded the fight. Finally,
Ali delivered a historic performance in the
ring, employing a new strategy dubbed the
“rope-a-dope,” goading the favored
Foreman into attacking him, then leaning
back into the ropes in a defensive stance
and waiting for Foreman to tire. Ali then
went on the attack, knocking out Foreman
in the eighth round. The maneuver has
been copied by many other champions
since.
The third fight in the Ali-Frazier trilogy
followed in 1975, the “Thrilla in Manila”
that is now regarded as one of the best
boxing matches of all time. Ali won in a
technical knockout in the 15th round.
Ali successfully defended his title until
1978, when he was beaten by a young
Leon Spinks, and then quickly took it back.
He retired in 1979, when he was 37, but,
seeking to replenish his dwindling personal
fortune, returned in 1980 for a title match
against Larry Holmes, which he lost. Ali
lost again, to Trevor Berbick, the following
year. Finally, Ali retired for good.
‘He’s Human, Like Us’
The following year, Ali was diagnosed with
Parkinson’s Disease.
“I’m in no pain,” he told The New York
Times. “A slight slurring of my speech, a
little tremor. Nothing critical. If I was in
perfect health — if I had won my last two
fights — if I had no problem, people would
be afraid of me. Now they feel sorry for
me. They thought I was Superman. Now
they can go, ‘He’s human, like us. He has
problems.’ ”
Even as his health gradually declined, Ali
— who switched to more mainstream
branches of Islam — threw himself into
humanitarian causes, traveling to Lebanon
in 1985 and Iraq in 1990 to seek the
release of American hostages. In 1996, he
lit the Olympic flame in Atlanta, lifting the
torch with shaking arms. With each public
appearance he seemed more feeble, a
stark contrast to his outsized aura. He
continued to be one of the most
recognizable people in the world.
He traveled incessantly for many years,
crisscrossing the globe in appearances in
which he made money but also pushed
philanthropic causes. He met with
presidents, royalty, heads of state, the
Pope. He told “People” magazine that his
largest regret was not playing a more
intimate role in the raising of his children.
But he said he did not regret boxing. “If I
wasn’t a boxer, I wouldn’t be famous,” he
said. “If I wasn’t famous, I wouldn’t be
able to do what I’m doing now.”
In 2005, President George W. Bush
honored Ali with the Presidential Medal of
Freedom, and his hometown of Louisville
opened the Muhammad Ali Center,
chronicling his life but also as a forum for
promoting tolerance and respect.
Divorced three times and the father of
nine children — one of whom, Laila,
become a boxer — Ali married his last
wife, Yolanda “Lonnie” Williams, in 1986;
they lived for a long time in Berrien
Springs, Michigan, then moved to Arizona.
In recent years, Ali’s health began to
suffer dramatically. There was a death
scare in 2013, and last year he was rushed
to the hospital after being found
unresponsive. He recovered and returned
to his new home in Arizona.
In his final years, Ali was barely able to
speak. Asked to share his personal
philosophy with NPR in 2009, Ali let his
wife read his essay:
“I never thought of the possibility of
failing, only of the fame and glory I was
going to get when I won,” Ali wrote. “I
could see it. I could almost feel it. When I
proclaimed that I was the greatest of all
time, I believed in myself, and I still do.”




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