Pelé, the Brazilian virtuoso whose captivating skill and athleticism ensured he was universally regarded as one of football’s greatest players, has died at the age of 82.
Pelé, who had a colon tumour removed in 2021, was readmitted to Albert Einstein hospital in São Paulo in November amid deteriorating health. A hospital statement on Thursday confirmed the death of “our dear King of Football” at 3.27pm local time, “due to the failure of multiple organs, a result of the progression of cancer of colon associated with his previous clinical condition.”
A statement from Pelé’s official Instagram page added: “Inspiration and love marked the journey of King Pelé, who peacefully passed away today. On his journey, Edson enchanted the world with his genius in sport, stopped a war, carried out social works all over the world and spread what he most believed to be the cure for all our problems: love. His message today becomes a legacy for future generations. Love, love and love, forever.”
After reports he was receiving end-of-life care, Pelé said he felt “strong, with a lot of hope” in a social media post on 3 December. A further statement from the hospital on 21 December reported that Pelé “requires further care related to renal and cardiac dysfunctions” after the “progression” of his colon cancer. Social media posts from his daughter Kely Nascimento showed that family members had gathered at the hospital to spend Christmas with him.
Brazil’s joint all-time record scorer won three World Cups as a player, in 1958, 1962 and 1970, over a 14-year international career that included 77 goals in 92 appearances for his country. Nicknamed “the Black Pearl” and “the King”, Pelé was one of only three players to have scored in four World Cups. In 1,363 games, he scored 1,281 goals, at the time of his retirement in 1977 more than twice as many as his nearest challenger.
It was the 1970 World Cup triumph for which he will be best celebrated, the linchpin of a beguiling team that included Carlos Alberto, Jairzinho, Gérson, Tostão and Rivelino that swept through Mexico, his canary yellow No 10 shirt becoming an icon of the sport.
World Soccer described Brazil’s 1970 winners as “more than a team”, adding: “The Brazilian side that won the 1970 World Cup in such style have become a myth, a team to be held up as the ultimate exponents of the beautiful game.” Pelé was their figurehead and inspiration.
Brazil’s government declared three days of mourning and the arch at Wembley Stadium was lit in the colours of Brazil, while icons of sport and heads of state bowed to the man who rose up from childhood poverty to become a legend. The Guardian