Muhammad Ali, often called the greatest boxer of all time, died on Friday, June 3 in a hospital near Phoenix, Arizona. He was suffering from respiratory complications due to Parkinson’s disease.
Ali, who was born Cassius Clay on Jan. 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, was known for more than just heavyweight boxing. He was a civil rights activist and dedicated to his faith, the Nation of Islam, which he converted to after winning the world heavyweight championship in 1964. Ali changed his name to the one known today after converting.
Ali began training at 12 years old and beat the then unbeatable Sonny Liston just ten years later. In 1967, he continued to find fame without the title of athlete — this time as a war activist. Ali refused to be conscripted into the U.S. military, using his religion and opposition to the Vietnam War as the reasons he could not fight. After being arrested for evading draft charges, his conviction was overturned at the Supreme Court in 1971.
The boxer then returned to his sport, winning the title of heavyweight champion two more times in 1974 and 1978. Ali stood out among other athletes during his reign, as he didn’t let a manager control him. He spoke boldly to the media and controlled the majority of his press conferences and interviews himself. He changed what it meant to be a black athlete in America, embracing racial pride in a critical time in the country’s history, the civil rights movement.
President Barack Obama shared his condolences in a statement released to the press.
“His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing,” Obama said. “It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled and nearly send him to jail. But, Ali stood his ground. And, his victory helped us get used to the America we recognize today.”