Muhammad Ali, the magnificent heavyweight champion whose fast fists and irrepressible personality transcended sports and captivated the world, has died. He was 74.
Ali suffered for years from Parkinson’s disease, which ravaged his body but could never dim his larger-than-life presence.
He was hospitalised in Phoenix with respiratory problems earlier this week, and his family gathered around him.
He died Friday night, according to a statement from the family.
Family spokesman Bob Gunnell says the funeral will take place in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. More details would be released on Saturday.
“The Ali family would like to thank everyone for their thoughts, prayers, and support and asks for privacy at this time,” the statement said.
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.
Ali 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.
“I am the greatest,” Ali thundered again and again.
Few would disagree.
Despite his debilitating illness, he travelled the world to rapturous receptions even as the once-bellowing voice was reduced to a whisper and he was left to communicate with a wink or a weak smile.
One of those appearance was in Australia at the AFL grand final day in 1998, where he was cheered as he was driven around the MCG on a lap of honour.
Revered – and reviled – by millions, Ali cut quite a figure in his prime, indeed, complete with an entourage nearly as colourful as he was urging him to “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” He finished with a record of 56-5 with 37 knockouts and was the first man to win heavyweight titles three times.
Ali was born in Louisville, Kentucky, as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr, changed his name in 1964 after his conversion to Islam.
But he continued to make appearances and offer opinions through his family members and spokespeople.
In April, he attended a Celebrity Fight Night Dinner in Phoenix that raised funds for treatment of Parkinson’s.
In December, he issued a statement rebuking US presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
“Muhammad Ali transformed this country and impacted the world with his spirit,” said longtime boxing promoter Bob Arum. “His legacy will be part of our history for all time.”