Pelé, the greatest soccer player ever and the most decorated athlete in the history of “the Beautiful Game,” has died at the age of 82.
Pelé’s death was confirmed in an Instagram post on Thursday. An exact cause of death was not given, though, in Dec. 2022, it was revealed that Pelé — the mononym for the Brazilian-born Edson Arantes do Nascimento — was in palliative care at a São Paulo hospital following reports that he was no longer responding to chemotherapy treatment for colon cancer, which he was diagnosed with in Sept. 2021.
“Inspiration and love marked the journey of King Pelé, who peacefully passed away today,” read the post. “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.”
Although Pelé issued a statement congratulating Argentina — and specifically, their star player Lionel Messi, perhaps the only player in the same league as Pelé accolades-wise since Pelé’s 1977 retirement — following the team’s 2022 FIFA World Cup win against France on Dec. 18, Pelé’s daughter revealed a couple of days later that her father would remain hospitalized through the Christmas holiday under “elevated care” due to “kidney and cardiac dysfunctions.”
“We decided with doctors that, for many reasons, it will be best for us to stay here, with all the care that this new family at [Albert Einstein hospital in Sao Paulo] gives us,” his daughter Kely Nascimento wrote on Instagram. “We love you and we will give up an update next week.”
Pelé was born on Oct. 23, 1940, his father was a professional soccer player in their native Brazil. Pelé — who was given his nickname by childhood friends because of the way he mispronounced his favorite soccer player goalkeeper Bilé — honed his craft playing futsal (or indoor soccer) in Bauru, the region within São Paulo, where Pelé grew up.
In 1956, at only the age of 15, Pelé tried out for the Santos FC professional club near São Paulo. He soon signed a contract with the team and made his professional debut on Sept. 7, 1956. In the Brazilian press, Pelé was instantly hailed as a star, with the forward leading the league in scoring as a 16-year-old in 1957. The following year, Pelé joined the Brazilian national team for the 1958 World Cup, delivering a performance that would make him a global star and earn him the nickname “O Rei,” or “The King.”