Soccer legend Pelé died Thursday at age 82 due to complications from colon cancer, according to The Associated Press. He will be remembered for his talent on the field and celebrity status off of it; Pelé was one of the most famous athletes of the past century.
“A national hero in his native Brazil, Pelé was beloved around the world — by the very poor, among whom he was raised; the very rich, in whose circles he traveled; and just about everyone who ever saw him play,” The New York Times reported.
During his soccer career, Pelé led Brazil to three World Cup victories and also helped popularize the sport in the United States during a brief stint with the New York Cosmos.
“In his 21-year career, Pelé — born Edson Arantes do Nascimento — scored 1,283 goals in 1,367 professional matches, including 77 goals for the Brazilian national team,” The New York Times reported.
He became so popular as a player that a country once paused a war to ensure he would visit.
“Pelé’s fame was such that in 1967 factions of a civil war in Nigeria agreed to a brief cease-fire so he could play an exhibition match in the country. He was knighted by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II in 1997. When he visited Washington to help popularize the game in North America, it was the U.S. president who stuck out his hand first,” The Associated Press reported.
After he retired from soccer, Pelé embraced a variety of interests, from acting to charitable work.
“He was a politician — Brazil’s Extraordinary Minister for Sport — a wealthy businessman, and an ambassador for UNESCO and the United Nations. He had roles in movies, soap operas and even composed songs and recorded CDs of popular Brazilian music,” The Associated Press reported.
Dozens of his songs were eventually recorded by Brazilian pop stars, the article said, noting that Pelé often didn’t ask for credit because he didn’t want his music career to overshadow his life in soccer.
“In football, my talent was a gift from God. Music was just for fun,” he told The Guardian in 2006.
Pelé had been receiving treatment for colon cancer since 2021, according to The Associated Press. After his manager confirmed his death Thursday, social media was filled with tributes to the soccer star.
RIP Pele. The original GOAT, and an inspiration to generations of football players and fans— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) December 29, 2022
Before his final game, in Oct 1977 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., Pelé took the microphone at the center of the field, his father and Muhammad Ali beside him, and exhorted a crowd of more than 75,000 “Say with me three times, for the kids: Love! Love! Love!” 🇧🇷🐐👑 pic.twitter.com/fuDeUTXOMT— Men in Blazers (@MenInBlazers) December 29, 2022