Muhammad Ali, lauded not just as one of the greatest boxers of all time but one of the most enduring, lyrical voices in the fight for civil rights, died Friday night night at the age of 74.
Ali entered the world as Cassius Clay, later changing his name as his commitment to the Nation of Islam cemented in the mid-’60s. His role as an unrepentant iconoclast, however, was set into motion years earlier and only gathered steam with time: In 1960, he tossed his Olympic gold metal into a river in protest of being denied service at a “whites only” restaurant. In 1966, he chose to sacrifice his heavyweight title, three years of his career and millions of dollars rather than fight in Vietnam. In 1977, he did this:Ali died late Friday in a Phoenix-area hospital, having been admitted on Thursday for a respiratory illness that was complicated by his 32-year-long bout with Parkinson’s disease.
Asked how he wanted to be remembered, Ali once said:
“I would like to be remembered as a man who won the heavyweight title three times, who was humorous and who treated everyone right.
As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him, and who helped as many people as he could. As a man who stood up for his beliefs no matter what. As a man who tried to unite all humankind through faith and love.
And if all that’s too much, then I guess I’d settle for being remembered only as a great boxer who became a leader and a champion of his people. And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was.”
Done and done.
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Photo via AP.