Muhammad Ali, was a civil rights champion who proclaimed himself “The Greatest.” After a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease, Cassius Marcellus Clay “Muhammad Ali” has passed away at the age of 74. The three-time World Heavyweight Champion boxer death has sparked a wave of tributes across the internet. A funeral service is planned in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Even as his health declined, Ali did not shy from politics or controversy. Being a Muslim he criticized presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. In the early 1960s, Inspired by Malcolm X, he converted in 1963 and refused to serve in the Vietnam War.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, on January 17, 1942, 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 and when heavyweight champion Sonny Liston agreed to fight Ali he Liston in a sixth-round in a technical knockout and proclaimed, “I am the greatest! I am the greatest! I’m the king of the world.” He was 22 years old. When he refused to fight in the Vietnam War he was stripped of his boxing title, convicted of draft evasion and sentenced to five years in prison. Released on appeal Ali was unable to fight or leave the country. His appeal took four years to reach the U.S. Supreme Court and in June 1971 the court reversed the decision.
While he was awaiting that discussion, in 1969 Ali starred on Broadway in the musical Buck White. He played a militant black lecturer in Oscar Brown Jr.’s musical adaptation of Joseph Dolan Tuotti’s Off-Broadway play Big Time Buck White. The supporting cast included Ted Ross (The Lion in The Wiz) and Donald Sutherland. The show ran seven performances.
At a sold-out Madison Square Garden, he lost to Joe Frazier in “the fight of the century.” Ali and Frazier fought again in 1974 and won. He fought George Foreman later that year in a “The Rumble in the Jungle.” A third fight followed in 1975, with Frazier called “Thrilla in Manila.” It is 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 six times, including a rematch with Liston. Ali 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, due to money woes he returned in 1980 for a title match against Larry Holmes, which he lost. He lost to Trevor Berbick, the following year.
The following year, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.
He traveled to Lebanon in 1985 and Iraq in 1990 to seek the release of American hostages. In 1996, he lit the Olympic flame in Atlanta. In 2005, President George W. Bush honored him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and his hometown of Louisville opened the Muhammad Ali Center, as a forum for promoting tolerance and respect.
Divorced three times, the father of nine children including Laila, who become a boxer.