Pelé, the Brazilian soccer legend recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as the greatest athlete of the 20th century, died Thursday. He was 82.
Pelé had been hospitalized since December for a “reevaluation of the chemotherapeutic treatment of the tumor” amid his fight with colon cancer, according to the hospital.
His agent confirmed his death, according to the Associated Press.
“Inspiration and love marked the journey of King Pelé, who peacefully passed away today,” a message posted to Pelé’s Twitter said.
A inspiração e o amor marcaram a jornada de Rei Pelé, que faleceu no dia de hoje.
Amor, amor e amor, para sempre.
Inspiration and love marked the journey of King Pelé, who peacefully passed away today.
Love, love and love, forever. pic.twitter.com/CP9syIdL3i
— Pelé (@Pele) December 29, 2022
Brazil’s all-time leading scorer, Pelé has 77 international goals in 92 matches and helped lead the Brazilian national team to three World Cup championships: 1958, 1962, and 1970. Though the total number of goals scored by the Brazilian legend is disputed, his official goals scored come to 757, including his national team goals and club team goals with Santos FC and American club New York Cosmos.
Often referred to as the “King of Football,” he was born on October 23, 1940, in Três Corações, Brazil, with the name Edson Arantes do Nascimento. The nickname Pelé came about when he mispronounced the name of Bilé, a teammate of his father. He said the nickname stuck when his classmates began referring to him as such.
“My friends, I want to keep everyone calm and positive,” Pelé wrote in a recent Instagram post. “I’m strong, with a lot of hope and I follow my treatment as usual … I have a lot of faith in God and every message of love I receive from you all over the world keeps me full of energy.”
He ended the post by encouraging his followers to watch Brazil in the World Cup, which took place in Qatar. His support for his country’s national team is not without reciprocation. Brazilian fans displayed a massive banner with an image of Pelé holding a ball, with the words: “Pelé: Get Well Soon” and “We love Pelé” during the country’s match against Cameroon.
Voted FIFA’s player of the century with Argentinian Diego Maradonna in 2000, Pelé started playing for Santos FC at age 15 and his country’s national team at 16. Soccer is called “The Beautiful Game” largely because of Pelé, who referred to it as such. Over half of Brazil’s World Cup championships were achieved with Pelé on the team. To this day, he remains the youngest player ever to score a goal in a World Cup, at age 17 in the 1958 competition.
Pelé retired from soccer in 1977, but didn’t leave the public eye. Being admired by many across the world, he has been awarded the International Peace Award, the International Olympic Committee’s Athlete of the Century, and one of Time’s 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century, among other awards. From 1995 to 1998, Pelé served as Brazil’s Minister of Sports.
He had emphasized humanitarian work since retiring, focusing on international children’s rights and poverty. He was a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations and, in 2018, he founded the Pelé Foundation to help children in education and poverty alleviation.
Pelé greatly impacted soccer in the United States, attracting great crowds as a New York Cosmo and opening the door for other international stars to play in the United States. He met with several American presidents at the White House, including Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan. Both Presidents Clinton and Obama met with Pelé during their trips to the South American country.
In a 1982 meeting, President Reagan said, “My name is Ronald Reagan, I’m the President of the United States of America. But you don’t need to introduce yourself because everyone knows who Pelé is.”
Pelé was the first soccer player known to many Americans and he helped normalize the sport in the U.S. His speed, control of the game, and incredible goals caught the attention of people around the world. He isn’t just one of the greatest soccer players in history, he is also known as one of the greatest sports figures as well.
Pelé is survived by his wife of six years and seven children.