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Muhammad Ali

  • Birthplace: Louisville, Kentucky
  • Birthday: January 17
Date of passing: 
June 03, 2016

Muhammad Ali was a boxer who won the world heayweight boxing title three times, but it was far more than success in the ring that made him perhaps the most influential and renowned athlete of the twentieth century. A man of principle who remained true to his convictions even when doing so caused him personal hardship, Ali drew as much media attention — both positivie and negative — for his stances on race, religion, politics and social issues as he did for his astounding achievements as a prizefighter. But whether admired or reviled, he was without question one of the most recognizable people in the world for more than half a century.

Muhammad Ali was a boxer who won the world heayweight boxing title three times, but it was far more than success in the ring that made him perhaps the most influential and renowned athlete of the twentieth century. A man of principle who remained true to his convictions even when doing so caused him personal hardship, Ali drew as much media attention — both positivie and negative — for his stances on race, religion, politics and social issues as he did for his astounding achievements as a prizefighter. But whether admired or reviled, he was without question one of the most recognizable people in the world for more than half a century.

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay in Louisville, Kentucky, he began boxing at age 12, reportedly after his bicycle was stolen on a downtown street. He embraced the sport and, in a harbinger of his eventual status as a media figure, he was so adept on Tomorrow's Champion, a local television program, that he became its star. In time, he became a formidable boxer, and went on to win a gold medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. Shortly after returning to the U.S., he turned professional.

In 1964, at age 22, he won the world heavyweight title for the first time, when he defeated the highly favored champion, Sonny Liston. Soon afterward, he converted from Christianity to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali.

In 1966, he refused to be drafted into the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, citing his religious beliefs and opposition to America's presence in the region. As a result, he was arrested, found guilty of draft evasion and stripped of his boxing titles. He appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction in 1971. By the time he was permitted to return to boxing, he had lost nearly four years of elgibility. His willingness to forgo his career as a consequence of his decision made him a hero to many people who opposed the war.

After returning to the ring, Ali, who early in his career declared himself "The Greatest," captured the heavyweight title two more times — in 1974, when he defeated George Foreman, and 1978, when he defeated Leon Spinks.

His best known opponents included Joe Frazier — his challenger in the so-called "Fight of the Century," "Super Fight II" and the "Thrilla in Manila" — Foreman — his rival in the bout dubbed "The Rumble in the Jungle," as well as Spinks and Ken Norton. Ali retired from boxing in 1981.

Charismatic, cocky and fond of reciting self-composed poems about his physical beauty, skill as a fighter and the damage he would do to his opponents, Ali was a larger-than-life personality who craved the limelight and had no shortage of opportunities to bask in it.

In the media, his career was frequently intertwined with the equally garrulous sportscaster and boxing analyst Howard Cosell, who admired and supported Ali as a fighter but also challenged him like no one else during their television interviews.

In addition to appearing on television in relation to his fights, Ali was a fixture on the talk-show circuit who sat down with nearly every major host, including Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, Dinah Shore, David Frost and Dick Cavett. He also had small roles playing himself on such scripted programs as Diff'rent Strokes and Cos, and he acted opposite Kris Kristofferson in the 1979 telefilm Freedom Road.

Ali was also a prolific pitchman who appeared in commercial campaigns for such brands as Coke, Gatorade, D-Con, Apple, Pizza Hut, Adidas and Porsche.

He starred as himself in the 1977 feature film The Greatest, and was played by Will Smith in the 2001 biopic Ali.

In the 1980s he began to experience symptoms of Parkinson's disease; his condition worsened over the years, and had severe effects on his mobility and speech.

Ali died on June 3, 2016, in Phoenix, Arizona. He was 74.
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