Former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali has died, according to a statement released by a family spokesperson Friday night.
Ali had been suffering from respiratory issues this week, apparently related to his Parkinson’s disease, and was hospitalized in Arizona.
Ali, 74, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in the 1980s, but remained active for much of the past 30 years, despite challenges caused by the neurological disease.
News of Ali’s rapidly deteriorating health Friday marked a significant downturn for the former boxer whose condition was described by doctors as “fair” the day before.
Ali had been hospitalized several times over the years, most recently in early 2015.
The Hollywood Reporter noted that he looked “increasingly frail” in public appearances, “including April 9 when he wore sunglasses and was hunched over” during an event in Phoenix.
Ali’s daughter, Laila, who was an undefeated boxer herself, was reportedly among Ali’s nine children with him at the hospital in Arizona.
She thanked fans for their support and posted a baby picture of her daughter, Sydney, who was born in 2011, being held by the boxing legend.
“It’s a sad day for life, man. I loved Muhammad Ali, he was my friend. Ali will never die,” Don King, who promoted some of Ali’s biggest fights, told The Associated Press early Saturday.
“Like Martin Luther King, his spirit will live on, he stood for the world,” he said.
Despite the debilitating effects Parkinson’s disease had on Ali’s body, it never seemed to daunt the boxing legend’s spirit. Ali remained a charismatic presence in public.
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay on January 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, Ali started boxing at age 12. It was an early start to what would eventually become a storied career.
A towering figure in his prime, he still travelled and made appearances in his later years despite being muted by the thousands of punches he took during his remarkable career.
He beat the invincible Sonny Liston, fought a string of thrilling fights with Joe Frazier and stopped George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire. But he paid a terrible price for the estimated 29,000 punches he took to his head during a career that made him perhaps the most recognised person in the world.
Ali never complained about the price he paid in the ring.
“What I suffered physically was worth what I’ve accomplished in life,” he said in 1984. “A man who is not courageous enough to take risks will never accomplish anything in life.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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