By Ian Simpson
( Reuters) – Former world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali was close to death in a Phoenix-area hospital on Friday, information sources close to the family said, as supposition swirled about his health.
Ali, one of the best-known figures of the 20 th century, was hospitalized this week for a respiratory ailment. Family spokesman Bob Gunnell has said that Ali, 74, was in fair condition, but media reports have said he was in rapidly failing health.
Asked about Ali’s condition, the source said: “It’s extraordinarily grave. It’s a matter of hours.”
The source, who had spoken with Ali’s wife, Lonnie, added: “It could be more than a couple of hours, but it’s not going to be much more. Funeral arrangings are already being made.”
Gunnell did not respond to repeated requests for remark about Ali’s condition.
Ali has suffered from Parkinson’s disease for more than three decades and has kept a low profile in recent years.
The Radar Online website reported on Friday that Ali had been placed on life support, citing “an insider.”
The Reuters source close to the family could not comment on that report.
Ali’s last public appearance was in April at the “Celebrity Fight Night” gala in Arizona, a charity that benefits the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center.
At the height of his career, Ali was known for his dancing feet and quick fists and his ability, as he set it, to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.
He held the heavyweight title a record three times, and Sports Illustrated named him the top sportsman of the 20 th century.
Nicknamed “The Greatest, ” Ali retired from boxing in 1981 with a record of 56 wins, 37 by knockout, and five loss. Ali’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s went about three years after he left the ring.