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Muhammad Ali, The Greatest Of All Time, Dead At 74
The greatest all time, Muhammad Ali, has died. He was 74."After a 32-year battle with Parkinson's disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74," family spokesman Bob Gunnell told NBC News on Friday night. "The three-time World Heavyweight Champion boxer died this evening."
Ali had been hospitalized the last few days for a respiratory ailment, and was put on life support on Friday. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1984.
Born Cassius Clay on January 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, Ali came into prominence in the early 1960s as a fighter, winning the Light Heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Summer Olympics. He later claimed he threw the medal into the Ohio River after he and a friend were denied service at a whites-only restaurant.
On February 25, 1964, Ali upset Sonny Liston to claim the World Heavyweight Championship. The boxer was a 7-1 underdog, but the trash-talking "Louisville Lip" boasted before the fight he would "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee."
Liston failed to answer the bell for the seventh round, and Ali was declared the winner on technical knockout. It was after the bout Ali declared, "I am the greatest! I am the greatest! I'm the king of the world." He was 22.
The second Ali vs. Liston fight, a year later, has been immortalized in Neil Leifer's iconic photo of the fight, after Liston hit the mat in the second round:
The day after the first Liston fight, Ali would be joined by Malcolm X at a press conference to announce he was converting to the Nation of Islam, according to ESPN. Shortly afterwards, he was named Muhammad Ali by Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad.
Ali would defend his title for the next three years before getting drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. Ali had previously stated he would refuse to fight, famously saying, "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong." He later said in an interview, "They never called me nigger. They never lynched me. They didn't put no dogs on me."
Ali would later be convicted of draft evasion and stripped of his title. He was sentenced to five years in prison and did not compete for over three years as a result. He remained free on appeal and his conviction was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court in 1971. During his absence from the sport, Ali would tour as a speaker, debating civil rights on college campuses.
The Greatest returned to the ring in 1970. He would lose to Joe Frazier after 15 rounds in "The Fight of the Century" in 1971, making it the first loss of his career. He would later defeat Frazier in their first rematch in 1974, and later regain the heavyweight title against George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire in the "Rumble in the Jungle." Ali would defeat Frazier in their third and final fight in 1975's "Thrilla in Manilla."
Ali retired from fighting in 1981, and was diagnosed from Parkinson's disease in 1984. Despite his health, he became an active humanitarian. He traveled to combat zones as an ambassador of peace. He was bestowed the honor of lighting the Olympic torch at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.
Even towards the end of his life, Ali remained outspoken. When presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said he could not think of any Muslim athletes (despite having previously said Muhammad Ali was a friend of his), Ali fired back with a response.
Ali married four times and had nine children. His daughter, Laila, would also go on to become a boxer in her own right.
Muhammad Ali with his daughters Laila (9 months) and Hanna (2 years 5 months) at on December 19, 1978. (Photo by Frank Tewkesbury/Evening Standard/Getty Images)