Muhammad Ali, a legendary boxer who retired in 1981, died of septic shock on Friday, June 3rd, at the age of 74. Muhammad Ali was a three time world champion heavyweight, and only lost 5 of the 61 fights he participated in during his career. Tragedy struck shortly after his retirement when, in 1984, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome. It is believed that he developed the syndrome, in part, due to head trauma sustained during boxing. Despite this setback, he remained active in the public eye for years after. He endorsed Ronald Reagan in 1984, published an oral history of his life, traveled to Iraq during the Gulf War to negotiate with Saddam Hussein, and lit the flame at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. These notable appearances gradually diminished over time, and halted entirely when he began to confront serious health problems in 2013.
Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., on January 17th, 1942. He began boxing at 12 years old, and 10 years later he became world heavyweight champion after an upset victory over Sonny Liston. He quickly gained a reputation for his endearing bravado and impressive results. In the ring, he was notable for having great reflexes and mobility, especially in comparison to other heavyweights. He constantly moved about, circling his opponent, jabbing, and dancing about to avoid punches; thus it is apropos that his most famous catchphrase would be “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. After defeating Sonny Liston he converted to Islam under the guidance of Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the same organization that Malcolm X belonged to before his assassination, who gave him the name for which he is now famous. This, along with his refusal to be drafted into the Vietnam war, antagonized the white political establishment. He became a counterculture icon in the process, but he was arrested and stripped of his boxing titles. Although he appealed successfully in 1971, he had lost 4 peak years of his athletic career. He regained his title in what was certainly the most dramatic, and probably the most famous, boxing match in history dubbed “The Rumble in the Jungle”.
In addition to his impressive professional achievements, he also maintained an active family life. He was married four times and had 9 children, two sons and seven daughters. One of his surviving daughters is now a retired professional boxer herself. Muhammad Ali was a great man and we should all mourn his death.