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Muhammad dies at 74 in Phoenix after respiratory illness

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PHOENIX  — Muhammad Ali, the magnificent heavyweight champion whose fast fists and irrepressible personality transcended sports and captivated the world, has died according to a statement released by his family. He was 74.

Ali had been at a Phoenix hospital since Thursday with what spokesman Bob Gunnell had described as a respiratory issue.

The three-time heavyweight champion also had battled Parkinson’s disease since 1984.

“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,” Gunnell said in a statement. “The Ali family would like to thank everyone for their thoughts, prayers, and support and asks for privacy at this time.”

Laila Ali “truly appreciates the outpouring of love for her family, as she spends quality time with her dad,” a statement issued by her business manager said.

Muhammad Ali also was hospitalized in January 2015 with a urinary tract infection. He was hospitalized in December 2014 with pneumonia.

Hours before her famed father passed away, Laila Ali posted a throwback photo of Muhammad Ali with her daughter, Sydney, who was born in 2011.

“I love this photo of my father and my daughter Sydney when she was a baby! Thank for all the love and well wishes. I feel your love and appreciate it!!” Laila Ali, herself a former world champion boxer, wrote.

Former six-time world champion Sugar Ray Leonard tweeted: “Prayers & blessings to my idol, my friend, & without question, the Greatest of All Time @MuhammadAli ! #GOAT

Boxing great Manny Pacquiao asked for his many fans to “Please keep @MuhammadAli in your thoughts and prayers. With God, all things are possible.”

Actor Liev Schreiber, the voice of many documentaries including “Ali-Frazier I: One Nation… Divisible,” wrote online, “Thinking about the greatest tonight(.) Hoping he is on the mend and surrounded by loved ones #MuhammadAli @MuhammadAli.”

In recent years, Ali had largely stayed out of the public spotlight. In his last known appearance, Ali appeared at Parkinson’s fundraiser April 9 in Phoenix, according to the Arizona Republic. A photo posted by the newspaper showed Ali wearing dark sunglasses.

He once was known not only for his athletic prowess as a three-time heavyweight champion but also for his social activism.

Ali was born in Louisville, Kentucky, as Cassius Clay in January 1942. He began boxing as an amateur when he was 12 years old and in 1964 became heavyweight champion with a knockout of Sonny Liston. That year he joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name.

Ali’s sparkling career was interrupted for 3½ years in the 1960s when he refused induction into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and was convicted of draft evasion. The Supreme Court overturned the conviction.

He went on to win the heavyweight title twice more before retiring for good in 1981.