Legendary boxing champ Muhammad Ali has died at age 74. Ali was hospitalized earlier this week in Phoenix for respiratory issues that were complicated by Parkinson's, a disease he has been fighting for more than 30 years.
"After a 32-year battle with Parkinson's disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74. The three-time World Heavyweight Champion boxer died this evening," Bob Gunnell, a family spokesman, told NBC News.
Ali had close ties to the country music industry. In 1979, Ali starred alongside country star Kris Kristofferson in Freedom Road, a four-hour based-on-fact movie adapted from a best-selling 1940's novel by Howard Fast about a black man's rise from slave status to a seat in the U.S. Congress after the Civil War.
In an interview with Rockcellar Magazine, Kristofferson talked about his long-time friend and what he admired about him most.
"He was a beautiful human being and a really sweet man, and all his life he was doing beautiful things for people. And I admire him not just for his fighting, but for the way he’s handled his incapacity as he’s never felt sorry for himself. I remember when Waylon Jennings wanted to meet him, and Waylon wasn’t impressed by anybody. But Waylon was impressed with Ali, and they also became good friends."
Ali also shared a special bond with Reba McEntire.
For 11 years McEntire has hosted Celebrity Fight Night, a star-studded event that raises money for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center. Ali became the featured guest during the event's third year and over the course of the fundraiser's 22-year history it has drawn some of country music's greatest acts like Carrie Underwood, Brooks and Dunn, Garth Brooks, and Rascal Flatts along with a host of other A-list celebrities.
Our prayers are with Muhammad Ali's loved ones.
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