Legendary soccer player Pelé has died at the age of 82. Often referred to as the king of “the beautiful game,” the retired athlete died of complications from colon cancer on Thursday, December 29 in his native Brazil.
Pelé’s death was confirmed by his agent, Joe Fraga, to the Associated Press. He spent the last month in a Sao Paolo hospital to receive treatments for his progressing cancer and ultimately died of multiple organ failure as a result of the cancer. His family spent the holiday with him in the medical center.
Pelé (full name Edson Arantes do Nascimentowas) the face of global soccer and helped popularize the sport in the United States. A longtime teammate of Brazilian club Santos FC and the Brazil’s national team, he won a record three World Cups (still the only player to do so) and dominated the sport for nearly two decades. He scored over 1,000 goals before retiring in 1977.
Tributes are flooding in for the late legend, the most heartfelt coming from his family. A few hours after the announcement of his passing, Pelé’s daughter, Kely Nascimento, shared a touching tribute on Instagram (the culmination of a series of photos shared from her father’s time in the hospital).
“Everything we are is thanks to you. We love you infinitely. Rest in peace,” she wrote. The sports icon has six other adult children. Other famous names in the beautiful game are also sharing their adoration for the late star.
“My deep condolences to all of Brazil, and in particular to the family of Edson Arantes do Nascimento. A mere ‘goodbye’ to the eternal King Pelé will never be enough to express the pain that the entire football world is currently embracing,” Cristiano Ronaldo wrote on Instagram. “An inspiration to so many millions, a reference yesterday, today and forever. The love you always showed me was reciprocated in every moment we shared even from distance. He will never be forgotten and his memory will live forever in each and every one of us football lovers. Rest in peace King Pelé.”
“Before Pelé, 10 was just a number,” wrote Brazilian footballer Neymar. “I’ve read this phrase somewhere, at some point in my life. But this sentence, beautiful, is incomplete. I would say before Pelé football was just a sport. Pelé has changed it all. He turned football into art, into entertainment.”
The player added that Pelé “gave voice to the poor,” uplifted Black communities, and “gave visibility to Brazil.” “Soccer and Brazil have raised their status thanks to the King! He’s gone but his magic remains. Pelé is FOREVER!!”
Pelé made a grand entrance to the sport at just 17 years old at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, the youngest player to compete in the tournament. Brazil won 5-2 that year with two goals scored by Pelé. He was carried off of the field on his teammate’s shoulders in celebration of their victory. He and the Brazil national team would win the World Cup again in 1962 and 1970. The soccer player was so beloved and influential, his presence at a 1969 exhibition match in Nigeria triggered a two-day cease-fire in the country’s civil war so everyone could see him play.
For most of his career, Pelé stayed with Brazil, despite many offers from European teams. He initially retired Santos in 1974, but came out of retirement for the 1975 season, that time signing a contract with the New York Cosmos. His move to New York was one of the reasons soccer became popular in the United States. He remains one of the most revered athletes in modern history.