Muhammad Ali has died at the age of 74, a family spokesman has said.

The former world heavyweight boxing champion, one of the world’s best-known sportsmen, had been in hospital in the US city of Phoenix in Arizona state.

He had been fighting a respiratory illness, a condition that has been further complicated by Parkinson’s disease.

The funeral will take place in Ali’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, his family said.

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Ali shot to fame by winning light-heavyweight gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

Nicknamed “The Greatest”, the American beat Sonny Liston in 1964 to win his first world title and became the first boxer to capture a world heavyweight title on three separate occasions.

He eventually retired in 1981, having won 56 of his 61 fights.

Muhammad Ali

Crowned “Sportsman of the Century” by Sports Illustrated and “Sports Personality of the Century” by the BBC, Ali was noted for his pre- and post-fight talk and bold fight predictions just as much as his boxing skills inside the ring.

But he was also a civil rights campaigner and poet who transcended the bounds of sport, race and nationality.

Asked how he would like to be remembered, he once said: “As a man who never sold out his people. But if that’s too much, then just a good boxer. I won’t even mind if you don’t mention how pretty I was.”

Ali turned professional immediately after the Rome Olympics and rose through the heavyweight ranks, delighting crowds with his showboating, shuffling feet and lightning reflexes.

British champion Henry Cooper came close to stopping Clay, as he was still known, when they met in a non-title bout in London in 1963.

Cooper floored the American with a left hook, but Clay picked himself up off the canvas and won the fight in the next round when a severe cut around Cooper’s left eye forced the Englishman to retire.


Ali’s boxing career

Muhammad Ali, arms raised in victory, walks to his corner as referee Zack Clayton counts out George Foreman after Ali knocked him down in the eighth round of their Rumble in the JungleAli (r) knocked down George Foreman in the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle”
  • Won Olympic light-heavyweight gold in 1960
  • Turned professional that year and was world heavyweight champion from 1964 to 1967, 1974 to 1978 and 1978 to 1979
  • Had 61 professional bouts, winning 56 (37 knockouts, 19 decisions), and losing five (4 decisions, 1 retirement)