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Obama: "Muhammad Ali shook up the world"

Muhammad Ali, three-time world heavyweight boxing champion and arguably the world's most famous athlete, died Friday night at a Phoenix area hospital at age 74
Muhammad Ali, three-time world heavyweight bo... 02:24

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama mourned the death of boxing icon Muhammad Ali Saturday, releasing a lengthy statement on Ali's legacy and expressing their gratitude "for how fortunate we all are that The Greatest chose to grace our time."

"Muhammad Ali was The Greatest. Period," the first family wrote of the cultural legend, who died at 74 in a Phoenix-area hospital Friday night. "If you just asked him, he'd tell you. He'd tell you he was the double greatest; that he'd 'handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder into jail.'"

"But what made The Champ the greatest - what truly separated him from everyone else - is that everyone else would tell you pretty much the same thing," they said.

Jerika Duncan reports on the tributes pouring... 02:45

The president shared his own views of Ali, who not only made his name as a heavyweight boxing champion but also drew praise (and criticism) with his outspoken stances on civil rights and the Vietnam War and his public conversion to Islam.

"That's the Ali I came to know as I came of age - not just as skilled a poet on the mic as he was a fighter in the ring, but a man who fought for what was right. A man who fought for us," the president wrote. "He stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn't. His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing."

"He wasn't perfect, of course," the Obamas said. "He could be careless with his words, and full of contradictions as his faith evolved. But his wonderful, infectious, even innocent spirit ultimately won him more fans than foes - maybe because in him, we hoped to see something of ourselves."

The president also tweeted out a photo of himself sitting beneath a framed picture of Ali's 1965 victory over Sonny Liston.

Other politicians weighed in on the passing of Ali, including former President George W. Bush, who awarded the boxing superstar the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.

"Americans will always be proud to have been in his corner and called him one of our own," Bush wrote in a post on Instagram.

The senators from Ali's home state of Kentucky paid tribute with their own statements.

Republican Sen. Kentucky Rand Paul, once a presidential candidate, said the boxer lived a life of "strength principle & generosity":

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised Ali as "one of the preeminent and most beloved athletes of the 20th century."

"Inside the ring, he was graceful on his feet and packed a powerful punch," McConnell said in a statement. "Outside the ring, he thrilled us with his exuberance for life. He was more than just a boxer. He was The Greatest."

In a separate statement, former President Clinton and current Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton lauded Ali's "blend of beauty and grace, speed and strength that may never be matched again."

"We watched him grow from the brash self-confidence of youth and success into a manhood full of religious and political convictions that led him to make tough choices and live with the consequences," they said. "Along the way we saw him courageous in the ring, inspiring to the young, compassionate to those in need, and strong and good-humored in bearing the burden of his own health challenges."

In a statement, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders also celebrated Ali's career, calling him "not only an extraordinary athlete but a man of great courage and humanity."

Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump sent a tweet late Friday night remarking that Ali was "a truly great champion" and a "wonderful" person:

The statement was a far cry from a Trump tweet back in December, where he criticized a statement by Mr. Obama on Muslim-American athletes:

Ali himself spoke out against Trump's presidential campaign, slamming his call to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

"True Muslims know the ruthless violence of so-called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion," Ali said in a statement. "I believe that our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people's views on what Islam really is."

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