PHOENIX – Boxing legend Muhammad Ali spent a second day in an area hospital Friday, fighting a respiratory problem that’s worried his family and set off a media frenzy of speculation about his latest health woes.
Ali, 74, considered by many to be the greatest boxer of all time and whose gift of gab rivaled his jab, is in fair condition at the undisclosed hospital, said Bob Gunnell, an Ali spokesman. Ali, who has suffered from Parkinson’s disease since the 1980s, is no stranger to hospital stays, but the Associated Press reports that people familiar with his condition say he may be battling more serious problems. He’s been hospitalized since Thursday.
Gunnell, in an interview with Gannett’s (Louisville) Courier-Journal, downplayed the report and said each Ali hospitalization causes a “media frenzy.” He said Ali’s condition remained the same, but declined to provide further details. An update later Friday was possible, he said.
Ali has been hospitalized several times in recent years, most recently in early 2015 when he was treated for a severe urinary tract infection initially diagnosed as pneumonia.
Ali has looked increasingly frail in public appearances, including April 9 when he wore sunglasses and was hunched over at the annual Celebrity Fight Night dinner in Phoenix, which raises funds for treatment of Parkinson’s.
His last formal public appearance before that was in October when he appeared at the Sports Illustrated Tribute to Muhammad Ali at The Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, along with former opponents George Foreman and Larry Holmes.
Ali has suffered from Parkinson’s for three decades, most famously trembling badly while lighting the Olympic torch in 1996 in Atlanta. Despite the disease he kept up a busy appearance schedule until recently, though he has not spoken in public for years.
Doctors say the Parkinson’s likely was caused by the thousands of punches Ali took during a career in which he traveled the world for big fights.
An iconic figure who at one point was perhaps the most recognized person in the world, Ali has lived quietly in the Phoenix area with his fourth wife, Lonnie, whom he married in 1986.
In 2005, Ali and his wife bought a $1.64-million, six-bedroom home in a gated community south of Camelback Golf Club in Paradise Valley, a small exclusive community between Phoenix and Scottsdale. For years before that he had been spending more and more time in Arizona, mostly appearing at a variety of charitable events.
In 1994 Arizona businessman Jimmy Walker founded the Celebrity Fight Night Foundation in Phoenix; three years later, Ali agreed to be the event’s featured guest. He has served in that role ever since.
Celebrity Fight Night is a major fund-raiser for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute. The black-tie gala, which includes a charity auction, has raised more than $20 million for the Ali center, which was dedicated in 1997. The event brings A-list celebrities to Phoenix every year, including Robert De Niro, Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton, Billy Crystal, Josh Groban, Michael Buble and Jennifer Lopez. Reba McEntire has been the emcee since 2005.
Ali’s physician at the time, Dr. Abraham Lieberman, worked at the Phoenix institute, and in the mid-1990s traveled to Ali’s farm in Berrien Springs, Mich., to treat the former boxing great, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome in 1985, four years after retiring from the ring.
In December 2009, the Barrow Neurological Institute opened a new building for its Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center, which offers medical, rehabilitation and educational services for patients with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders. The 10,000−square−foot facility, is located on the campus of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix.
His prowess in the ring and his personality and controversial stands would make him one of the most recognizable sports figures of the past century.
Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, arrived on the national scene in 1964 with a stunning upset of then champion Sonny Liston. It made Clay, then 22, the youngest boxer to ever take a title from a champion.
Three years later he joined the Nation of Islam, changed his name to Muhammad Ali and refused to serve in the military during the Vietnam War. He was found guilty of draft evasion and stripped of his title. He did not fight from 1967-70.
States, some under court order, began to grant him boxing licenses in 1970, and that eventually led to the first of three memorable fights against Joe Frazier. The first, at Madison Square Garden in 1971, led to the first defeat of Ali’s career.
A victory over Frazier in their rematch in 1974 led to a title fight against George Foreman in October of that year, and at the age of 32, Ali won by knockout to claim the world heavyweight title for the second time.
A year later he met Frazier for a third time in Manila – the fight has come to be known as the “Thrilla in Manilla” – and the two battled in temperatures that neared 100 degrees. Ali emerged as the victor when Frazier could not leave his corner for the 15th and final round.
In 1978, a clearly overweight Ali lost his title to Leon Spinks, but won it back in a rematch just six months later, making him the first fighter to win the heavyweight title three times.
After a brief retirement, Ali returned to the ring against Larry Holmes in 1980 but suffered his only loss by knockout when his trainer, Angelo Dundee, stopped the fight in the 11th round. It was the first time Ali lost by knockout.
He would fight one last time, losing a 10-round decision to Trevor Berbick in 1981.
Ali finished with a 56-5 record, including 37 wins by knockout.