Pelé, the global soccer star that popularized the sport on an international level, died Thursday, the Associated Press reported. He was 82.
The Brazilian ex-player had spent nearly a month at the Albert Einstein hospital in Sao Paulo due to his colon cancer worsening and was recently put under elevated care due to kidney and cardiac dysfunctions. In 2021, he had surgery to remove a tumor on the right side of his colon and subsequently began chemotherapy.
Throughout his decorated professional career as a forward, Pelé, who donned the iconic No. 10 jersey during his playing days, has accumulated a wealth of accolades. He was labeled “the greatest” by FIFA, named Athlete of the Century by the International Olympic Committee and included on the Time list of the 100 most important people of the 20th century. His 1,279 goals in 1,363 career games is a Guinness World Record. On the pitch, Pelé began playing for Santos FC at 15 years old and joined the Brazil national team at 16. His international career with Brazil remains a highly regarded one — he is the only player to have won three FIFA World Cups (1958, 1962 and 1970).
Following his 1958 victory, Pelé was nicknamed The King (“O Rei”) and was quickly considered one of the best players of the sport. For Brazil, he is the country’s joint top scorer in goals with 77 in 92 career games. For Santos FC, he is the club’s all-time scorer with 643 goals in 659 games.
Pelé is credited with popularizing the term “The Beautiful Game” in association with soccer, with his global popularity being a catalyst for the sport’s overall growth worldwide. The teams he played for often traveled and played internationally to take advantage of his popularity around the world. For a period of time during his playing days, Pelé was considered the highest-paid athlete in the world. In 1975 at the age of 34, he agreed to sign with the New York Cosmos in the United States for $7 million across three years.
The footballer retired in 1977, and in his post-playing career he served as a worldwide ambassador for the sport and acted in several films and commercials. In a full-circle moment for the Brazilian star, he was named honorary president of the Cosmos in 2010 with the organization aiming to field a team in Major League Soccer.
Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento on Oct. 23, 1940, in Três Corações, Minas Gerais, Brazil, Pelé began playing the sport from the guidance of his father, Dondinho (born João Ramos do Nascimento) — a professional footballer of his own, having played for clubs such as Fluminense FC. Pelé often practiced with a sock stuffed with newspaper or with a grapefruit instead of an actual ball as his family lived in poverty in São Paulo. He began playing soccer in an organized manner during his childhood. He brought two state youth championships to Bauru Athletic Club juniors and participated in the booming popularity of indoor soccer, winning the first futsal competition in his region. Although he ended up switching to grass with the traditional style of the sport, he credited his indoor playing experience with helping him think and process decisions faster on the spot.
Pelé is survived by his wife, Marcia Aoki, and seven children: Edinho, Sandra Regina, Joshua, Celeste, Kelly Cristina, Jennifer and Flávia Christina.