Born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Ky., on Jan. 17, 1942, Ali rose to greatness with a Hall of Fame boxing career that exploded in the 1960s and immortalized him in the hearts of many across the world. Known for his outspokenness, Clay changed his name in 1964 after converting to Islam at the height of his controversial decision to buck the Army draft.
Regularly known as “The Greatest,” Ali lost nearly four years of his “prime” dealing with the repercussions from his refusal to enlist, but while he was out of the ring, he gained steam as a Black social figure for his views on religion, racism and war. By the time he returned to the ring in 1971, his reputation was already at an all-time high. Boxing series against Joe Frazier and George Foreman stamped Ali as a great fighter, a great self-promoter and a great trash talker. Bouts against Foreman in Africa and the Philippines made Ali a global icon before his career dwindled in the early ’80s.
In 1984, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease which famously robbed him of his motor skills and infamous quick tongue. Ali would battle the disease for the next 30-plus years before succumbing to complications. Along with famous actor Michael J. Fox, Ali became a main “face” for the disease; Fox was diagnosed in 1991. Despite speech difficulty and motor problems, Ali still carried on as the face of the people. He traveled to Lebanon and Iraq to help release American hostages before lighting the Olympic flame in the 1996 summer games in Atlanta, Ga.
While other boxers made huge contributions to the sport of boxing, Ali’s standout career made him “The Greatest” boxer of all time. A private funeral will be on Thursday followed by a global celebration of the life of Ali scheduled for June 10 in Louisville.