Muhammad Ali’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, today paid its deepest respects to its fallen son – and the most iconic sportsman of all time.
The the self-proclaimed ‘Greatest’ died aged 74 overnight following a 32-year-long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
The legendary fighter died with his family at his side on Friday evening, a day after he was rushed to hospital outside Phoenix, Arizona, with difficulty breathing.
‘After a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away. The three-time World Heavyweight Champion boxer died this evening,’ Ali’s spokesman said.
Hundreds of mourners – many visibly shaken by the passing of their hero – visited the Ali center in Louisville today to lay flowers and heartfelt messages to ‘The Greatest Of All Time’.
At a ceremony at the city’s Metro Hall, Mayor Greg Fischer declared that flags on government buildings would remain at half-staff until Ali has been laid to rest.
‘I said a little prayer for the family that they could find peace and know that he is resting in a better place and there is no more pain,’ Army instructor and Louisville resident Alvin Mason told ABC News.
He added: ‘He leaves his legacy through his children, but also through people he doesn’t know like me… He certainly touched my life in a great way. I’m very appreciative of his family for sharing him with us and with the world.’
Another local Shani Jinaki said: ‘He represents that greatness came from Louisville… It makes me want to change my life and how I’m living to be more bold.’
And Candice Nelson added: ‘One person can impact an entire world and it almost gives me goosebumps to know that through his actions how he gave back… It’s pretty powerful being here right now.’
Ali’s legion of fans, celebrities and fellow boxers took to social media memorialize their icon but the most heartwarming tributes were paid by his family. His daughter Hana remembered her father as a “Humble Mountain!” with a ‘beautiful soul’.
Ali’s family said his funeral would be held in Louisville and thanked the public for their outpouring of support.
Ali, who was also a key figure in America’s civil rights movement, had been on life support in hospital after he was found ‘barely breathing’ at his home on Thursday.
He was taken to hospital with an ‘unshakeable cough’, a separate source said, with his fatal respiratory problems likely to have been complicated by his Parkinson’s disease.
The Greatest was surrounded by his family, who rushed to be at his bedside on Thursday and Friday after doctors warned his condition was ‘rapidly deteriorating’, a source said.
He is survived by his fourth wife Lonnie, whom he married in 1986, and nine children, many of whom were with him when he died. Hana paid tribute to her father on Twitter and Instagram today, writing: ‘Our father was a “Humble Mountain!” And now he has gone home to God.
‘Pray for the peace of his beautiful soul and for the happiness of his further journey. God bless you daddy. YOU ARE THE LOVE OF MY LIFE!’
It was earlier reported that Ali’s family had started making funeral arrangements after doctors warned that he was just hours from death.
Ali’s spokesman Bob Gunnell told MSNBC that the family were ‘devastated’ by his death.
‘Muhammad passed with his family at his side just moments ago,’ he said.
‘It was a very peaceful passing and they are with him as we speak. You know, we lost a great person in this world tonight.
‘We don’t have an official cause of death yet, but it has to be from complications of Parkinson’s.’
Gunnell said on Thursday that the boxer was being treated for a respiratory issue at a hospital, which he confirmed again on Friday morning.
Tributes have flooded in from around the world, with friends and fellow fighters paying Ali, who was voted Sports Personality of the Century, the highest accolades.
Mike Tyson had kind words to say about Ali. He tweeted: ‘God came for his champion. So long great one. @MuhammadAli #TheGreatest #RIP’
He will be remembered for his stunning victories against the likes of Sonny Liston, as well as George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle and Joe Frazier in the Thrilla in Manila. Ali also won gold at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.
Foreman also paid tribute to Ali today, telling the BBC: ‘We were like one guy – part of me is gone.’
He said he wanted Ali to be remembered as a ‘brave’ humanitarian and not just a boxer, adding: ‘Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest human beings I have ever met. No doubt he was one of the best people to have lived in this day and age.
‘To put him as a boxer is an injustice.’
He also spoke of Ali’s love for the UK and the way he was treated in the country.
‘He loved London. If he had been born and raised in London he never would have changed his name,’ he said
Ali’s trash-talking and way with words – which produced unforgettable quotes such as ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’ – were also part of what made Ali the best boxer to ever take to the ring.
He also caused controversy by refusing to fight in Vietnam – which led to him being stripped of his heavyweight championship title.
But it was boxing that would eventually lead to his long illness – with the sheer number of blows Ali took to the head thought to be linked to Parkinson’s, which he was diagnosed with in 1984, and the extent of his illness brought to the world stage when he trembled badly while lighting the Olympic torch in 1996 in Atlanta.
Ali’s daughter Laila spoke about her father’s health struggles in an interview with People in March, saying: ‘He’s such a fighter, still, when at times he seems weak and not able to handle it.
‘He comes through stronger than ever. He’s still fighting regardless and I love my dad for that.’
Ali’s health last took a turn for the worse in early 2015, when he was treated for a severe urinary tract infection.
His high profile and willingness to share his very public struggle with Parkinson’s helped raise awareness of the disease.
Ali’s Parkinson’s diagnosis was long-linked to the number of times he took blows to the head during fights.
The boxer looked increasingly frail during public appearances over the past few years, including his last outing in April.
He wore sunglasses and was seen hunched over at the annual Celebrity Fight Night dinner in Phoenix, which raises funds for the treatment of Parkinson’s.
His last public appearance prior to that was in October of last year when he appeared at the Sports Illustrated Tribute to Muhammad Ali at The Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on January 17, 1942, Ali took up boxing at age 12, when his bike was stolen and he wanted to find and whip the culprit.
The boy was introduced to Joe Martin, a police officer who coached boxing at a local gym.
Ali’s brother, 68-year-old Rahaman Ali, said the champ was cheerful and happy as a youngster.
‘As a little boy he (said) he would be the world’s greatest fighter and be a great man,’ he said.
Ali flourished in the ring, becoming a top amateur and Olympic gold medalist in Rome in 1960 after beating Zbigniew Pietrzykowski for the light-heavyweight title.
He made his professional debut in Louisville the next year and arranged for a local children’s hospital to receive proceeds from the fight.
Ali won his first world title in 1964, beating Sonny Liston on a technical knockout in the seventh round of the heavyweight bout.
Soon after the fight, he changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali and announced his conversion to Islam.
Ali refused to fight in Vietnam – a decision that alienated him from many across the U.S. and resulted in a draft-evasion conviction.
As a result, the heavyweight champion of the world was stripped of his title after every state refused to grant him a boxing license.