Brazilian football icon Pele, a three-time World Cup winner who is widely regarded as the greatest player of all time, has died at the age of 82 — triggering a wave of tributes from the sports world and beyond.
Pele’s daughter, Kely Nascimento, announced the football star’s passing on Thursday in an Instagram post, and it was confirmed by the Brazilian publication, Globo and the hospital later.
“Everything we are is thanks to you. We love you infinitely. Rest in peace,” daughter Kely Nascimento wrote on Instagram.
Brazil declared three days of mourning.
Widely considered one of the greatest footballers of all time, he had been hospitalised at the Albert Einstein hospital in Sao Paulo since late November as doctors reevaluate his treatment and tend to a respiratory infection.
According to his doctors, Pele’s cancer had advanced in recent weeks and he required care related to renal and cardiac dysfunction.
The hospital said in a statement his death was caused by “multiple organ failure.”
Pele had received regular medical treatment since a tumour was removed from his colon in September last year.
Following Argentina’s World Cup win on December 20, Pele posted a picture on social media of their team lifting the trophy and hailed performances from squad leader Lionel Messi, France’s rising star Kylian Mbappe, and surprise semi-finalists Morocco.
The superlatives about Pele over the years came from the likes of Nelson Mandela and Andy Warhol, who described him as the greatest and most complete player in the history of the sport.
Born October 23, 1940, in the southeastern city of Tres Coracoes, Edson Arantes do Nascimento — Pele’s real name — grew up selling peanuts on the street to help his impoverished family get by.
His parents named him for American inventor Thomas Edison.
But he was soon given the nickname Pele, for his mispronunciation of Bile, the name of a goalkeeper at Vasco de Sao Lourenco, where his footballer father once played.
Pele dazzled from the age of 15, when he started playing professionally with Santos. He led the club to a flurry of titles, including back-to-back Intercontinental Cups in 1962-1963.
He epitomised the sublime style of play called “samba football” in Brazil.
He scored an all-time record 1,281 goals in 1,363 matches for Santos (1956-74), the Brazilian national team, and the New York Cosmos (1975-77).
But beyond his records, he will be remembered for revolutionising the sport, his ever-present number 10 on his back.
The first global football star, he played a lead role in the game’s transformation into a sporting and commercial powerhouse, tapping his preternatural athleticism despite his relatively small size — 1.70 metres (just under 5ft 7ins).
He also played with heart, visible in the iconic black-and-white footage of the 17-year-old bursting into tears after helping Brazil to its first World Cup title, in 1958.
Eight years earlier, seeing his father cry when Brazil lost the 1950 World Cup final at home to Uruguay, Pele had promised to bring the trophy home one day.
Pele reached the pinnacle of his greatness at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, the first broadcast in color, where he starred on what many consider the greatest team of all time, with talents such as Rivellino, Tostao and Jairzinho.
He was often welcomed like royalty when traveling abroad with Santos or the national team. Legend has it in 1969 his arrival in Nigeria was the occasion for a 48-hour truce in the bloody Biafra war.
Pele declined offers to play in Europe, but signed for a brief, lucrative swan song with the New York Cosmos at the end of his career, bringing his star power to the land of “soccer.”
His reign extended beyond the pitch, with gigs as a movie star, singer and later sports minister (1995-1998) — he was one of the first black cabinet members in Brazil.
But he faced criticism at times in Brazil for remaining quiet on social issues and racism, and for what some saw as his haughty, vain personality.
Unlike Argentine rebel Diego Maradona, his rival for the title of greatest of all time, Pele was seen as close to those in power — including Brazil’s 1964-1985 military regime.
‘I will face this match with a smile on my face’
Pele’s public appearances had grown increasingly rare, and he frequently used a walker or wheelchair.
He was hospitalised several times for urinary infections, then again in 2021 and 2022 for the colon cancer that marked the beginning of the end.
He met his health problems with trademark humour.
“I will face this match with a smile on my face,” he posted on Instagram in September 2021, after surgery to remove his colon tumour.