Brazilian soccer legend Pelé, widely regarded as the greatest players of all time, has died. He was 82.
The standard-bearer of “the beautiful game” and three-time World Cup champion had undergone treatment for colon cancer since 2021. He had been hospitalized for the last month with multiple ailments.
His agent Joe Fraga confirmed his death to The Associated Press.
His family had rushed to his bedside two days before Christmas as his condition worsened. Doctors at Albert Einstein Hospital in São Paulo announced in a statement that Pelé’s health had deteriorated and he was being treated for complications related to kidney and cardiac failure.
One of his daughters, Kely Nacimento, thanked fans for the well wishes in an Instagram post, writing in Portuguese that their love and prayers for her father “are an enormous source of comfort because we know we are not alone.”
Edson Arantes do Nascimento, globally known as Pelé, had several health scares over the last decade and had stayed out of the public eye. The soccer great had mobility problems since a failed hip replacement surgery in 2012 forced him to use walkers and wheelchairs in public. He was also admitted to hospitals in recent years for kidney and prostate procedures.
In September 2021, Pelé had surgery to remove a tumor from his colon that was found during a routine exam and underwent chemotherapy treatment. He was hospitalized again in November 2022 to regulate the medication in his fight against the tumor.
A national hero in Brazil, Pelé is Brazil’s all-time leading scorer with 77 goals and World Cup titles in 1958, 1962, and 1970.
No other player has accomplished that feat.
He began his soccer career playing for the club Santos at the age of 15 and the Brazilian national team at the age of 16. Pelé is the game’s most prolific scorer, credited with 1,281 goals in 1,363 career matches.
Throughout his illustrious career, he collected a slew of trophies, starting with his time at Santos from 1956-74, including 10 São Paulo state league titles — a top tournament at the time — six Brazilian championships, two Copa Libertadores titles and the Intercontinental Cup in 1962 and 1963.
The Brazilian ended his career with the New York Cosmos, where he played from 1975-77, winning one national title and attracting sports greats like boxer Muhammad Ali to watch him play as soccer took root in the United States.
Pelé was also Brazil’s sports minister from 1995-98. Two years later, he shared the FIFA award for player of the century with Argentina great Diego Maradona. The Brazilian received the most votes from members of the soccer body, while the Argentine prevailed in an online vote.
Credited with coining the term “The Beautiful Game” for soccer, Pelé’s “electrifying play and penchant for spectacular goals” made him a star around the world, according to Britannica. During his playing days, Pelé was, for a period, the highest-paid athlete in the world.
Pele had married three times and admitted in his Netflix documentary that he had “a few affairs” that produced children he only learned of later. He has seven children — including a daughter that he refused to acknowledge even after Brazilian courts ruled through DNA evidence that Sandra Machado was his child. He had three children with his first wife Rosemeri dos Reis Cholbi, whom he was married to from 1966-1982, and twins with his second wife Assiria Lemos Seixas. The couple had married 1994 and divorced in 2008. An affair in 1968 with journalist Lenita Kurtz produced a daughter.
In 2020, Pelé spent his 80th birthday isolated at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while the rest of the country celebrated with huge fanfare. He also skipped an event unveiling of a life size statue of him at Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro that same year.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Pelé remained out of the limelight. He spent most of his time at his mansion in the beachfront city of Guarujá, on the coast of Sao Paulo state. He also had residences in Santos and Sao Paulo.
Pele is survived by his third wife, Marcia Aoki, with whom he married in 2016 and six of his children. Machado died from cancer in 2006