This is the first article in a five-part series about figures in the sports world that have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Former boxer Muhammad Ali is known as “the greatest of all time” for his accomplishments in the ring. He won an Olympic golf medal and became the world heavyweight champion at the tender age of 22 after upsetting Sonny Liston. He later joined the Nation of Islam, changing his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali, and was stripped of his title and banned from boxing for over three years after he refused to enlist in the Vietnam War when he was drafted. Ali went on to to become the sport’s first three-time heavyweight champion and participated in some of the most famous fights of all time, including the “Fight of the Century,” “Rumble in the Jungle” and the “Thrilla in Manila.” A brash and divisive figure back in his fighting days, Ali is now one of the most beloved American athletes in history.
Soon after his retirement in 1981, Muhammad Ali began showing symptoms and announced his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease in 1984. By that time Ali had developed tremors, his speech was slurred and his body movements had slowed. Ali’s symptoms have progressed to the point where he no longer speaks in public. It is thought that the repeated blows to the head that Ali experienced over the course of his boxing career caused the disease.
In 1997 he opened the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. It aids people with Parkinson’s and their families through its “renowned medical and research team, extensive physical occupational and speech therapy choices and unmatched educational and life-enhancing activities.” Currently, it is the most comprehensive Parkinson’s disease center in the world and its annual Celebrity Fight Night fundraiser has raised more than $45 million.