Boxing legend and sports icon Muhammad Ali has passed away after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. Indeed, Ali has spent several decades working to raise awareness of the disease and fundraising for Parkinson's research, and even founding the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center, a clinic dedicated to both research and patient care. So when did Ali first contract Parkinson's, and what was his personal history with the disease?
In 1984, not long after retiring from boxing in 1981, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's at the age of only 42. However, some later reported he was showing signs, including slurred speech, much earlier.
Parkinson's is a progressive disease of the nervous system that affects movement and worsens over time. There is currently no cure. Its causes are not fully understood, though it has a genetic component, but research suggests that head injuries may be a major contributing factor, and that a prior history of head trauma makes one more likely to develop the disease.
For boxers, of course, head injuries are a common phenomenon. Over the course of a 22-year career, including over sixty matches, Ali suffered numerous blows to the head, and doctors quickly identified this as a likely explanation as to why he developed Parkinson's. His family disputed this, however, believing it to rather be caused mainly by genetics.
Despite the diagnosis, Ali did not give up, but rather battled Parkinson's with every bit as much determination and heart as he displayed during his boxing career. He continued making public appearances, even though walking became difficult. Indeed, in 1996, Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic cauldron during the Games' opening ceremony in Atlanta. He continued raising money for Parkinson's research, even attending a Celebrity Fight Night fundraising gala just two months ago.
He was a legend and a champion, both in the ring and outside it, and he will be greatly missed.