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4 June 2016

Boxer Muhammad Ali has died aged 74

He was taken into hospital with respiratory problems earlier this week, following a lifetime of sport and political engagement.

By Barbara Speed

The once-world champion boxer Muhammad Ali died last night aged 74, after going into hospital earlier this week with respiratory problems.

Born Cassius Clay, Jr., Ali first won the world heavyweight championship in 1964 aged 22, and went on to win it twice more. He is the only boxer to have won this title three times.

As Henry Hitchings wrote for us in 1999, he was a breath of fresh air in a sport beset by corruption: he “spurned the sport’s traditional Mob connections” and “refused to be the property of the white businessmen who ran the sport”. 

His boxing style, too, was unusual – and is encapsulated by his catchphrase, “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee”. His agility, speed and short, sharp punches were the source of his success.

Ali was as known for his actions outside the ring as in. In 1965, Ali converted to Islam, which he practiced until the end of his life, and changed his name. In 1967, he refused conscription in the US army on the grounds that war “is against the teachings of the Holy Qur’an”. He was arrested under draft evasion charges and did not fight again for four years, until his conviction was overturned by the US supreme court. 

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 In 1984, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome which has affeced him ever since – though he still managed to bear the Olympic Flag during the Opening Ceremonies of London’s 2012 Olympics with the help of his wife, Yolanda “Lonnie” Williams. He was married four times, and has seven children.