Ali's death was confirmed in a statement issued by family spokesman Bob Gunnell today, a day after he was admitted to a Phoenix-area hospital with a respiratory ailment.

"A part of me slipped away, the greatest piece," George Foreman, a former heavyweight boxer who fought Ali, said on Twitter after the news of Ali's death.

Boxer Roy Jones Jr. also said in a Tweet, "My heart is deeply saddened yet both  appreciative and relieved that the greatest is now resting in the greatest place."

Ali had long suffered from Parkinson's syndrome, which impaired his speech and made the once-graceful athlete almost a prisoner in his own body.

Ali proclaimed himself "the greatest" - as well as "the boldest, the prettiest, the most superior, most scientific, most skillfullest."

Few could argue with him at his peak in the 1960s. With his dancing feet and quick fists, he could - as he put it - float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. He was the first person to win the heavyweight championship three times.

Ali became much more than a colorful and interesting athlete. He spoke boldly against racism in the '60s, as well as the Vietnam War.

Ali was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on Jan. 17, 1942, as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., a name shared with a 19th century slavery abolitionist. He later changed his name after his conversion to Islam.

Ali is survived by his wife, the former Lonnie Williams, who knew him when she was a child in Louisville, along with his nine children.

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