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Boxing Icon Muhammad Ali Dies

Boxing icon and humanitarian Muhammad Ali has died at the age of 74. 

Ali, who had battled Parkinson's disease for decades, passed away Friday after being hospitalized in the Phoenix area earlier this week with respiratory issues, according to the Associated Press. During a legendary pro boxing career, Ali -- considered by many boxing observers as the greatest boxer of all time -- won the heavyweight boxing title three times and fought a number of iconic fights throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

Ali retired from boxing in 1981 but remained one of the most popular and well-known athletes in the world. 

Ali, whose conversion to Islam and his opposition to the Vietnam War and the military draft during the 1960s drew criticism and condemnation from many circles, was revered later in life for advocating peace and equal rights for all. 

Several cable networks released statements early Saturday morning reacting to the death of Ali. 

ESPN president John Skipper reflected on Ali's passing, saying: “We are sad to hear of the passing of Muhammad Ali. However, we revel in the memory of his athletic excellence in the ring, we recollect with pleasure the charm of the charismatic young man from Louisville who would shock the world and we celebrate the dramatic achievement of a champion of civil rights who changed the world. In many ways, he was truly the greatest of all time.”

HBO in a statement said: "We join the rest of the world in mourning the passing of Muhammad Ali and celebrating the legacy of this unique man in unifying us through his acts and gifts. Ali's charisma, grace, and genius transcended all races, religions, nationalities, and generations. His spirit will inspire people forever. HBO is honored to have known Muhammad Ali as a fighter of beauty and a man of principle. We experienced the joy of working with him in support of initiatives he passionately cared about including, most importantly, his never-ending desire to teach tolerance and understanding of others to all people. Muhammad Ali was an icon and hero, father and friend, and beacon of hope for oppressed people throughout the world. He will be missed by all of those whose lives he touched. There are not enough bells to toll this loss."

Showtime also released the following statement: "Muhammad Ali was The Greatest of all time.  Perhaps the greatest in any sport.  The outpouring of emotion currently taking place around the world is a testament to his impact beyond boxing and beyond sports.On behalf of everyone at Showtime Networks, and our extended boxing family, we offer our condolences to the Ali family and to the millions of people the world over that were inspired by his grace, poise and prowess in life."

Boxing promoter Bob Arum, who promoted numerous Ali fights, said in a statement: "A true great has left us. Muhammad Ali transformed this country and impacted the world with his spirit.  His legacy will be part of our history for all time." 

Don King, who also promoted several Ali fights, including his memorable 1974 bout against George Foreman, told the Associated Press: "It's a sad day for life, man. I loved Muhammad Ali, he was my friend. Ali will never die. Like Martin Luther King his spirit will live on, he stood for the world." 

Retired, undefeated boxing champion Floyd Mayweather told ESPN early Saturday that Ali was a "hero" and paved the way for fighters like himself to be successful. Recently retired boxing champion Manny Pacquiao also said in a statement: "We lost a giant today ... boxing benefitted from Muhammad Ali's talents but not nearly as much as mankind benefitted from his humanity.  Our hearts and prayers go out to the Ali family.  May God bless them."  

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.