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 abouta 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."
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.