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Boxing Legend Muhammad Ali Dies Aged 74 Fighting a Respiratory Illness

Image Credit: Getty Images.

Image Credit: Getty Images.

Nicknamed 'The Greatest', Ali - born as Cassius Clay - was not only a boxing legend but also a humanitarian who did a lot to end racial discrimination and unite the world.

The greatest of them all, the boxing legend Muhammad Ali passed away on Saturday fighting a respiratory ailment.

The 74-year-old icon was hospitalized on Thursday. US media had reported his respiratory trouble was complicated by his Parkinson's disease.

Nicknamed "The Greatest," the former world heavyweight champion retired from boxing in 1981 with a record of 56 wins, 37 by knockout, and five losses.

Ali's diagnosis of Parkinson's came about three years after he left the ring.

Ali-- whose legendary boxing career stretched from 1960 to 1981 - dazzled fans with slick moves in the ring, and with his wit and engaging persona outside it. His opposition to the Vietnam War saw him banned from the sport for years, but the US Supreme Court overturned his conviction for draft dodging in 1971.

Once vilified in some quarters for his conversion to Islam and his outspoken stance on civil rights issues, Ali held firm to earn dozens of tributes, lighting the Olympic torch in 1996 in Atlanta and being named a UN messenger of peace in 1998.

He received the highest US civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2005.

Ali's last public appearance was in April at the "Celebrity Fight Night" gala in Arizona, a charity that benefits the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center.

At the height of his career, Ali was known for his dancing feet and quick fists and his ability, as he put it, to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.

He held the heavyweight title a record three times, and Sports Illustrated named him the top sportsman of the 20th century.

Ali, born in Louisville, Kentucky, as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr, changed his name in 1964 after his conversion to Islam.

Ali had a show-time personality that he melded with dazzling footwork and great hand speed. His bouts with such fighters as Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier and George Foreman made him an international celebrity like boxing had never seen.

He became a symbol for black liberation during the 1960s as he stood up to the U.S. government by refusing to go into the Army for religious reasons.

Ali made a surprise appearance at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996, stilling the Parkinson's tremors in his hands enough to light the Olympic flame.

He also took part in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012, looking frail in a wheelchair. He has been married four times and has nine children.