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Brazilian Football Legend Pele Dies at 82


A photograph of Brazilian football legend Pele is displayed on a giant screen prior to a football match at the Velodrome stadium in Marseille, Dec. 29, 2022.
A photograph of Brazilian football legend Pele is displayed on a giant screen prior to a football match at the Velodrome stadium in Marseille, Dec. 29, 2022.

Brazilian football legend Pele, who burst onto the world scene as a goal-scoring teenager and led his national team to an unprecedented three World Cup titles, died Thursday at the age of 82.

He was hospitalized in late November, and doctors said in December he was dealing with cancer that had advanced, along with kidney and cardiac problems. In September 2021, he had surgery to remove a tumor from his colon.

The Albert Einstein hospital, where Pele was being treated, said in a statement that he died of multiple organ failure.

"Everything we are is thanks to you. We love you infinitely. Rest in peace," daughter Kely Nascimento wrote on Instagram.

Fans of the football star will be able to pay their final respects beginning Monday at the stadium where he played soccer.

Pele’s coffin is scheduled to arrive Monday morning at Vila Belmiro Stadium, outside Sao Paulo, and will remain there for 24 hours.

His coffin will then be carried in a procession throughout the streets of Santos, his hometown, and will pass the home where his 100-year-old mother lives. He will be buried in Santos at the Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica in a private ceremony.

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Widely considered one of the greatest football players of all time, Pele dazzled on the World Cup stage for Brazil and in club games and international tours with his team Santos before helping generate a surge of excitement around the sport in the United States with a late-career stint with the New York Cosmos.

Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, October 23, 1940, in Três Corações, about 250 kilometers northwest of Rio de Janeiro, Pele signed with Santos at the age of 15.

By 16, he was part of Brazil’s national team, and in 1958 he made his World Cup debut at age 17. He is the youngest player to score in the men’s World Cup and the youngest to score three goals in one game, which he accomplished in Brazil’s second match of the tournament.

Two more goals in the tournament’s final match helped Pele lead Brazil to the championship. He won two more World Cups with Brazil, in 1962 and 1970.

His international career included 77 goals in 92 matches, and he was named FIFA’s co-player of the 20th century along with Argentina’s Diego Maradona.

After retiring from Santos and international duty, Pele joined the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League in 1975 and played three seasons there.

"Pele helped transform the domestic landscape of the sport of soccer," the New York Cosmos said in a statement. "Where once there had been baseball diamonds, now there were also soccer pitches."

Fans of Brazilian football legend Pele hang a banner reading "Eternal King Pele," in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Dec. 29, 2022.
Fans of Brazilian football legend Pele hang a banner reading "Eternal King Pele," in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Dec. 29, 2022.

In his post-football life, Pele served as Brazil’s sports minister, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization appointed him UNESCO Champion for Sport for what it said was his “outstanding commitment to promote sport and help disadvantaged children.”

In 2020, Pele tweeted that he was proud of his relationship with the U.N., as well as his involvement in campaigns to promote breastfeeding in Brazil and eradicate illiteracy.

“Today, I insist on being involved in good causes, both with NGO's, Public institutions and my sponsors,” he posted. “This is part of my legacy and I applaud other football legends that have also been following this path, using the beautiful game to make the world better.”

Brazil has declared three days of mourning, and the arch at Wembley Stadium in London has been lighted in Brazil’s colors.

"I had the privilege that younger Brazilians didn't have: I saw Pele play, live, at Pacaembu and Morumbi. Play, no. I saw Pele give a show," said Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the president-elect of Brazil.

"Because when he got the ball, he always did something special, which often ended up in a goal," he said.

Neymar, a fellow Brazilian and star for Paris Saint-Germain, said that before Pele, soccer was just a sport.

“He transformed football into an art, into entertainment. ... Football and Brazil gained status thanks to the King. He has gone, but his magic will remain. Pele is ETERNAL!" Neymar wrote on Instagram.

French star Kylian Mbappe said Pele’s legacy will endure.

"The king of football has left us but his legacy will never be forgotten. RIP KING." Mbappe said via Twitter.

“Rest in peace, Pele,” Argentina’s World Cup-winning captain Lionel Messi tweeted Thursday.

U.S. President Joe Biden said of Pele, “For a sport that brings the world together like no other, Pele's rise from humble beginnings to soccer legend is a story of what is possible.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said Pele was “A hero to so many and one of the greatest to ever grace the game.”

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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