Muhammad Ali, 1942 - 2016

portrait of Muhammad Ali
Photo by Anthony DiPierro for US Congress (27 June 2004)

Born: 17 January 1942, Louisville, Kentucky
Died: 3 June 2016, Paradise Valley, Arizona

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr to a sign painter, who had been named after the 19th century abolitionist. At twelve, his bicycle was stolen, when he reported it to police he declared he would beat up the thief. Officer Joe E. Martin replied that Clay had better learn to fight, and began to train him. As an amateur, Clay lost five bouts while winning a hundred, including the Kentucky Golden Gloves title six times, the Amateur Athletic Union national title, and the light-heavyweight gold at the 1960 Summer Olympics at Rome. As a pro he was 19-0 before his first title fight against Sonny Liston. During this period he had turned from his Baptist roots to Islam but held off on announcing it as promoters of the title bout feared it would hurt turnout. After winning the title he announced that he was a member of the Nation of Islam (Black Muslims) and changed his name first to Cassius X (à la Malcolm X, one of his mentors) and then to Muhammad Ali. He failed the US Armed Forces qualifying tests that year (1964), but in 1966 the tests were revised and Ali was classified 1A. When called up in 1967 he refused induction on the grounds of conscience and was found guilty of a felony, resulting in his losing his boxing licenses. The US Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 1971 (on procedural grounds). He returned to the ring and regained his title in "The Rumble in the Jungle" (1974), which was followed in 1975 by "The Thrilla in Manilla". In 1978 he lost the title in February, regained it in September, retired, but then came back in 1980 and came back in an unsuccessful attempt to win the title an unprecedented four times. In 1984 he announced that he had Parkinson's Syndrome, which is much more common for those who have suffered repetitive head trauma. Ali broke with the Nation of Islam, at least partially over their racial separatist stance, and converted to Sunni Islam in 1975, in 2005 he embraced Sufism. He traveled to Kabul, Afghanistan as a UN "Messenger of Peace" in 2002. George W. Bush presented Ali with the Presidential Citizens Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in separate ceremonies in 2005. That year the Muhammad Ali Center opened in Louisville, devoted to peace, social responsibility, respect, and personal growth.

Biography from Wikipedia and The New York Times obituary

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