Muhammad Ali dead at 74

By Alex Butler  |  Updated June 4, 2016 at 2:28 AM
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PHOENIX, June 4 (UPI) -- Muhammad Ali is now floating with the butterflies.

Cassius Marcellus Clay, 'The Greatest' boxer of all time, died late Friday in Phoenix, according to his family spokesman. He was 74 years old.

Following an iconic stint as boxing's world heavyweight champion, Ali faced his toughest opponent. His 56-5 career record rested against the ropes.

Battles against George Foreman and Joe Frazier were nothing compared to a 32-year bout with Parkinson's disease.

"After a 32-year battle with Parkinson's disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74. The three-time World Heavyweight Champion boxer died this evening," Bob Gunnell, a family spokesman, told NBC News.

The progressive neurological condition snatched away the voice of a talented speaker and drained the muscles of an iconic ring warrior. Still, Ali continued to insert himself into issues he thought were important, even standing up recently against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump after Trump proposed to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

Ali was listed in "fair condition" when he entered the Phoenix area hospital Thursday. Gunnell then said that a "brief hospital stay" was expected. But his disease complicated the respiratory issue and threatened his life. His condition became "very, very grave" late Friday, according to the Los Angeles Times' Lance Pugmire.

ABC News reported that Paradise Valley police deployed emergency medical services to respond to a call from Ali's home Tuesday in Arizona.

'The People's Champion' was truly a transcendent athlete. He converted to Islam and changed his name at a young age and stood up against serving in the Vietnam War.

"Cassius Clay is a slave name," Ali said at the time. "I didn't choose it, and I didn't want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name - it means beloved of God - and I insist people use it when speaking to me and of me.'"

President George W. Bush awarded Ali with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, the United States' highest civilian award.

"As his profile rose, Ali acted out against American racism," Jon Schuppe wrote for NBC News. "After he was refused services at a soda fountain counter, he said, he threw his Olympic gold medal into a river."

"Recoiling from the sport's tightly knit community of agents and promoters, Ali found guidance instead from the Nation of Islam, an American Muslim sect that advocated racial separation and rejected the pacifism of most civil rights activism," Schuppe wrote. "Inspired by Malcolm X, one of the group's leaders, he converted in 1963. But he kept his new faith a secret until the crown was safely in hand."

The Olympic gold medalist was the first boxer to win three heavyweight titles. After Ali refused military induction during the Vietnam War, he was stripped of his heavyweight belt and banned from the sport for three years in the prime of his career.

"Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights," Ali asked, as recounted in the book 'Muhammad Ali: The Making of an Icon.'

"No, I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end," Ali said in the Michael Ezra book. "I have been warned that to take such a stand would put my prestige in jeopardy and could cause me to lose millions of dollars which should accrue to me as the champion."

"But I have said it once and I will say it again," Ali continued. "The real enemy of my people is right here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality..."

"If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn't have to draft me, I'd join tomorrow," Ali said of the Vietnam War. "But I either have to obey the laws of the land or the laws of Allah. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I'll go to jail. We've been in jail for four hundred years."

He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990, lit the Olympic torch in 1996, and won the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage in 1997.

Ali's funeral is expected to take place in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

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