Cassius Clay — better known to the world as boxing great Muhammad Ali — died late Friday night.
"After a 32-year battle with Parkinson's disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74. The three-time World Heavyweight Champion boxer died this evening," family spokesperson Bob Gunnell said, according to ABC News. The agency reports that his funeral will be held in his hometown of Louisville, Ky., as his family has requested privacy during this period of mourning.
Ali was easily one of sports' most recognizable figures. Dubbed "the People's Champ," he often proclaimed himself to be "the greatest," but backed up his talk with a career that had 56 wins — 37 of them knockouts — and five losses, according to ESPN. His bouts were often over-the-top spectacles, being built up with much trash-talking hype, but delivering matchups that are still talked about today. Those include the 14-round "Thrilla in Manila" against fellow legend "Smokin'" Joe Frazier and the "Rumble in the Jungle" against boxing icon George Foreman.
Along with his brash personality, his showboating moves, and regularly reminding everyone of how "pretty" he was, Ali was known for speaking some of the most quotable lines in sports, if not life in general.
And words were another way that Ali fought, as he was a well-known civil rights activist during the height of his fame in the 1960s and 1970s. As Ebony reports, in 1963, a then-Cassius Clay described himself as "a blast furnace of race pride," and eventually he went on to join the Nation of Islam and change his name to Muhammad Ali. He regularly associated with the late Malcolm X, who became his spiritual advisor. He also famously refused to join the military to fight in Vietnam, saying the act would have been against his religious beliefs — even though he was sentenced to jail over his refusal (he did not serve time) and was out of the ring for about three years.
"Changing my name was one of the most important things that happened to me in my life," he said. "It freed me from the identity given to my family by slave masters."
Ali retired from boxing in 1981 after reportedly becoming sluggish, but then became the face of Parkinson's disease, which he was diagnosed with in 1984. One of the most memorable moments from the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta was when Ali — hands shaking — made a surprise appearance and lit the torch to kick off the games. As Clay, he won a gold medal in the lightweight division in 1960.
With his storied career and larger-than-life personality, it's not a surprise that Ali was loved by many, and seen as a symbol of everything from pride, to power, to perseverance. It's those traits that many notable personalities pointed out in their tributes on social media.