UPDATES WITH REACTIONS FROM DONALD TRUMP, BILL CLINTON, MIKE TYSON, BERNIE SANDERS, OSCAR DE LA HOYA
NEW YORK (AA) - Muhammad Ali, one of the most influential sports figures in the 20th century, has passed away at the age of 74 in Phoenix, Arizona, a family spokesman has confirmed to the media.
Boxing legend Ali won the heavyweight title three times and was known for his unorthodox fighting style, merging power and agility. Off the ring, he was famous throughout the globe for his charismatic personality, as well as social and political activism.
"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 spokesman Bob Gunnell told NBC News Saturday.
In 1967, three years after he won his first title, Ali refused to be drafted in the Vietnam War even though he registered for military service, presenting himself as a conscientious objector. Ali was stripped of his title, had his boxing license suspended, and a court found him guilty of draft evasion. His conviction was eventually reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
As the tide turned and public opinion shifted on the war, Ali became a spokesman for the anti-war sentiment, giving speeches at universities across the United States, even as he became increasingly active in the civil rights movement.
Hailing the fighter as "The Greatest. Period." -- a reference to Ali's now famous claim – U.S. President Barack Obama emphasized Ali’s role as a social justice champion.
"He stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn’t," Obama said in a statement, referencing the American and South African rights leaders.
"His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing. It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled, and nearly send him to jail. But Ali stood his ground. And his victory helped us get used to the America we recognize today," Obama added. "Muhammad Ali shook up the world. And the world is better for it."
A convert to Islam, Ali advocated for religious freedom. Initially a member of the Nation of Islam movement, which combined elements of religion and African American political activism, Ali converted to Islam after falling out with the group in 1975.
The U.S.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations National Board Chair Roula Allouch said in a statement that Ali "exemplified a true patriot and a true Muslim."
"His strength, courage and love of humanity has been, and will continue to be, an inspiration to people of all faiths and backgrounds in America and worldwide," Allouch said.
Ali leaves behind his wife Lonnie, seven daughters and two sons, as well as a legacy likely to remain unmatched as a boxer and world-renowned public figure.
His death continued to resonate throughout the day Saturday, with reactions pouring forth across the U.S.
Donald Trump, who was the first presidential candidate to react to Ali's death, tweeted: "A truly great champion and a wonderful guy. He will be missed by all!"
His likely Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton did not issue an independent statement, but her husband, former President Bill Clinton said in a statement issued on their behalf that they were "saddened" by his death.
"We watched him grow from the brash self-confidence of youth and success into a manhood full of religious and political convictions that led him to make tough choices and live with the consequences," he said.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said on Twitter: "Muhammad Ali was the greatest, not only an extraordinary athlete but a man of great courage and humanity."
Those who also took to the boxing ring lauded the champ, with Olympic Gold-winner Oscar de la Hoya captioning a picture of him and Ali on Twitter with the words "RIP @muhammadali, a legend who transcended sport and was a true champion for all. #thegreatest #MuhammadAli".
Retired boxer and former champ Mike Tyson added: "God came for his champion. So long great one. @MuhammadAli #TheGreatest #RIP".