Boxing legend Muhammad Ali passes away at 74

Posted at 9:26 PM, Jun 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-04 23:36:50-04

Legendary boxer Muhammad Ali has died at the age of 74 in a Scottsdale hospital after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Ali had been battling health issues for several years leading up to his death. He was taken to the hospital from a Valley home on May 31 for a respiratory issue, and he was originally expected to only stay there for a few days.

The respiratory issues, however, combined with complications with his Parkinson’s disease, eventually claimed the life of Ali on Friday. 

"I have watched [Ali] face the disease with grace and humor, and he has inspired countless patients to do the same," said Holly Schill, MD, director of the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix.

During an interview in the hours before Ali's death was announced, friend Jimmy Walker remembered the pair's trips to Phoenix Suns games.

He said Ali would received a standing ovation when he entered the arena and when he left.

"It's just the presence of him," Walker said.

Walker founded Celebrity Fight Night, an annual Valley fundraiser that benefits the fight against Parkinson's disease.

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He saw Ali at what might have been Ali's final public appearance, April's Fight Night event.

He remembered Ali as a legend who was also a pioneer.

"He was trash talking before anybody did that," Walker said with a smile.

Ali had a major impact on the world of boxing, winning three heavyweight titles, and his presence was also felt in the Valley after his retirement, as he continued to raise money for Parkinson's research in the area.

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His legacy

Ali, who was born with the name Cassius Clay, was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1942. He was introduced to the world of boxing at 12 years old when he reportedly told a police officer that he was going to beat-up a thief who stole his bike. The officer told Ali that he better learn to fight before he tried.

By 1960, Ali had won an Olympic gold medal, and at 22 years old he took down boxing legend Sonny Liston to claim his first world heavyweight championship as a huge underdog.

PHOTOS: Muhammad Ali through the years

Soon after that fight, he joined the Nation of Islam and officially changed his name to Muhammad Ali.

Ali was banned from the sport of boxing from 1967 to 1970 for refusing to enter the Vietnam draft. He spent those years advocating for African American rights, and speaking out against the Vietnam War.

Once accepted back into the sport, Ali was handed his first ever defeat in 1971 by heavyweight champion Joe Frazier in what was coined “The Fight of the Century.”

Three years later, Ali defeated Frazier in their second of three matchups. That opened the door for Ali to take down George Foreman in what was famously known as “The Rumble in the Jungle” to take back the heavyweight title for the second time.

In his career, Ali went 56-5, losing his last two fights before retiring for the final time in 1981.

Impact on the community

Since retirement, Ali has been a staple in the Phoenix community, most notably through his Celebrity Fight Night, which has raised over $118 million for Parkinson’s research. The annual fundraiser is attended by celebrities and athletes from across the country, and in its 22 years has become a staple in the Valley.

Ali’s legacy will almost certainly live on through the Celebrity Fight Night, the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix, as well as the Muhammad Ali Center in his home state of Kentucky.

Funeral services for Ali will he held in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, according to a spokesman. Arrangements will be announced in a news conference to be held Saturday at noon at a Scottsdale hotel.