Pelé, considered by many the greatest soccer player of all time and one of the world’s most popular athletes for decades, died Thursday in his native Brazil after battling colon cancer. He was 82.
His agent Joe Fraga confirmed his death today, according to the Associated Press.
Pelé had been in the hospital for several weeks as his health declined. His daughter Kely Nascimento has been sharing the journey with fans via social media as his condition deteriorated. Just before Christmas, she posted a photo of herself hugging her father in his hospital bed.
The caption, written in Portuguese, reads: “We continue to be here, in the fight and in faith. One more night together.”
Pelé had entered a palliative care unit at a Brazilian hospital, according to reports. He is being treated for colon cancer and a respiratory infection. According to AP last week, his cancer has advanced and he was receiving “elevated care” for kidney and heart issues.
Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in Brazil, the so-called “Black Pearl” led his native country to three World Cup championships in 1958, 1962, and 1970. In the process, he became the tournament’s all-time leading goal scorer, tallying 77 goals in 92 games.
He began playing for Santos of Brazil at age 15, then joined the Brazilian national team at age 16. His speed, skill, and electrifying style saw him score many spectacular goals. His team toured the world and made him, at one point, the best-paid athlete in the world.
At the club level, he was Santos of Brazil’s all-time top goal scorer with 643 goals in 659 games. He led Santos to the 1962 and 1963 Copa Libertadores, and to the 1962 and 1963 International Cup.
He finished his career in the U.S. with the star-studded New York Cosmos team in 1977, then became an honorary president of that team.
Along the way, Pele accumulated many honors. In 1999, he was named Athlete of the Century by the International Olympic committee, and was included in Time magazine’s list of the 100 most important people of the 20th century. He was also named the World Player of the Century by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics. His 1279 goals in 1363 games (which includes friendlies) is a Guinness World Record.
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