NBC News is reporting legendary boxer and activist Muhammad Ali has died. 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.
Ali was known for his prowess in the boxing ring and social consciousness and political activism outside of the ring. Born Cassius Clay in Louisville, KY, Ali became a fighter at age 12, winning Golden Gloves titles before heading to the 1960 Olympics in Rome, where he won a gold medal as a light heavyweight. He trained with legendary trainer Angelo Dundee and as he gained greater popularity, he became more politically active and controversial, converting to Islam (Nation of Islam) and changing his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali after his historic 1964 win over Sonny Liston. The author writes:
“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.
“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.”
Ali eventually won on appeal and was able to fight again, creating some of the biggest sports rivalries of all-time, namely his bouts with Joe Frazier, who handed Ali his first professional loss and George Forman. He and Frazier would fight each other three times with the third fight being the “Thrilla in Manila,” which Ali won in addition to a second brawl.
Ali also fought Foreman in “The Rumble in Jungle,” which was held in Zaire, where he displayed the legendary “rope-a-dope” move tiring out Foreman and winning the match. Like many boxers before him, Ali retired in 1978 and returned to the ring, losing to a young Leon Spinks, and then heavyweight boxer Larry Holmes and finally Trevor Berbick. He retired for good in 1981, which is when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological condition he battled for 30 years.
In his retirement, Ali became a humanitarian, seeking the release of hostages in Lebanon in 1985 and Iraq in 1990. In 1996, Ali carried and lifted the Olympic torch. 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 and also serving as a forum for promoting tolerance and respect.
The father of nine was married three times. His daughter Laila Ali followed in his footsteps as a boxer and television personality. He and his third wife Yolanda “Lonnie” Williams were married in 1986 and made a home in Berrien Springs, Michigan and then Arizona.
A funeral service is planned in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Ali was 74.
Read more at NBC News.
This post was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual or @TheBurtonWire.