Muhammad Ali, the boxer who famously called himself “the greatest,” has died at 74. He was being treated for respiratory complications at a Phoenix-area hospital. Regarded as one of the most significant heavyweight figures in the history of boxing, the sportsman suffered from Parkinson’s disease in recent decades, which tragically robbed him of his physical and verbal capabilities.
An activist, author, and father, Ali’s quick wit and anti-establishment stance often found him in the spotlight for reasons other than boxing. It was his fight with heavyweight champ Sonny Liston that inspired Ali’s famous catchphrase, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” After beating Liston, Ali proclaimed: “I am the greatest! I am the greatest! I’m the king of the world.”
In the 1960s, Ali converted to Islam and refused the draft for the Vietnam War. The outspoken Ali also gave his famous “Black is best” speech at Howard University in 1967, in support of the Black Power Committee, a student protest group.
This past December, Ali spoke out against presidential candidate Donald Trump and the Republican frontrunner’s proposal to ban Muslim’s from entering the United States. “We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda,” he stated.
New Yorker editor David Remnick, who wrote the bestseller King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero, remembered Ali’s life in Crow-era Louisville, Kentucky through his career. “He did not so much impress boxing writers as bewilder them,” writes Remnick. “Even A. J. Liebling, the finest of all boxing writers, and no one’s idea of a reactionary or a hack, was confounded by the young man’s loose-limbed style. Clay’s refusal to exchange punches with his opponent in the traditional manly fashion, his way of dancing, of circling an opponent, flashing lacerating jabs that came lashing up from the hip . . . this was not proper, somehow.”
Ali is survived by his nine children, including daughter Laila, who also became a world champion boxer.