Muhammad Ali: Worldwide reaction to the death of ‘The Greatest’

Muhammad Ali died Friday, days after he was hospitalized in the Phoenix area with respiratory problems.

The man who billed himself as “The Greatest” became a household name around the world as he rose from poverty to the world heavyweight boxing champion in the 1960s. His charisma and wit brought respectability to a sport that had long suffered from an image problem.

As news of his death spread, reaction poured in from across the globe.

U.S. President Barack Obama said Muhammad Ali, “shook up the world and the world is better for it.”

READ MORE: The quotable Muhammad Ali: The Greatest’s most famous sayings

Obama said he keeps a pair of Ali’s gloves on display in his private study, just off the Oval Office, under the famous photograph of the young champion “roaring like a lion over fallen Sonny Listen.”

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Obama said in a statement that Ali “fought for what was right,” stood with Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela “when it was hard,” and “spoke out when others wouldn’t.”

The head of the Nelson Mandela Foundation says the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former South African president called Muhammad Ali his boxing hero.

READ MORE: Bouts with granite-chinned George Chuvalo were Ali’s Canadian legacy

“Madiba had great respect for his legacy and spoke with admiration of Ali’s achievements,” Sello Hatang, the foundation’s CEO, said in a statement Saturday.

A photograph of Ali and Mandela together sat next to the former president’s desk at his foundation, the statement said, and Mandela’s favourite book at the office in his later years was an autographed copy of the Ali biography “Greatest of All Time.”

The statement included a comment Mandela made at an event in Washington in 1990: “There is one regret I have had throughout my life: that I never became the boxing heavyweight champion of the world.”

Spectators at the English Derby, one of the biggest events in British horse racing, honoured Muhammad Ali with a minute’s applause following the boxing great’s death. The applause took place before racing began Saturday, soon after Queen Elizabeth II arrived at Epsom racecourse.

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Actor Michael J Fox, who lives with Parkinson’s disease as well, paid tribute to Ali on Twitter.

Paul McCartney said he “loved that man” from the first time The Beatles met him in Miami. “He was a beautiful, gentle man with a great sense of humour.”

Comedian Chris Rock posted a photo of Ali with rock star Prince, who died last month. Rock said, “I wish this year would stop already.”

Tributes came in from athletes as well. Like George Foreman, Ali’s opponent in the “Rumble in the Jungle.” The boxing match was the first-ever world heavyweight title fight held in Africa. It took place in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Ali regained the title by knocking out Foreman in the eighth round.

Former heavyweight champion, Mike Tyson, also paid tribute to Ali.

As did pro golfer Tiger Woods.

In his own words: Ali had said he wanted to be remembered “…as a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him…”

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— With files from Associated Press

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