As cultural icons go, there were none greater. Born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky in 1942, he began training as a boxer at twelve years old. Ten years later he upset Sonny Liston, a boxer who previously had been viewed as nearly invincible. The same year, Clay joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
In 1967, Ali refused to be conscripted into the U.S. Army, declaring his opposition to the Vietnam War and citing that it was against his religions beliefs. He was eventually convicted of draft evasion. Although at the height of his talents, Ali did not fight again until after the Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1971.
Ali won the the title of world heavyweight champion three times: in 1964, 1974, and 1978. Those fights are still some of the most famous in history. George Foreman, whom Ali defeated in the "Rumble in the Jungle"—which was fought in Kinshasha, Zaire in 1974—tweeted about Ali's death: "It's been said it was Rope a dope Ali beat me with. No, it was his beauty that beat me. Most beauty I've known. Loved him."
Ali wrote several autobiographical works over the years and was the subject of many more books written by others. In his recent book The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life's Journey, Ali stated: "At night when I go to bed, I ask myself, 'If I don't wake up tomorrow, would I be proud of how I lived today.' With that question in mind, I have tried to do as many good deeds as I can, whether it is standing up for my faith, signing an autograph, or simply shaking a person's hand. I'm just trying to make people happy and get into heaven."
One of the most famous and beloved figures in the world, Ali remained socially active to the end.
He is also quoted as having said, "Don't Count the Days; Make the Days Count."
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