Pelé, who was declared a national treasure in his native Brazil, achieved worldwide celebrity and helped popularize the sport in the United States.
Pelé, one of soccer’s greatest players and a transformative figure in 20th-century sports who achieved a level of global celebrity few athletes have known, died on Thursday in São Paulo. He was 82.
His death, in a hospital, was confirmed by his manager, Joe Fraga.
A national hero in his native Brazil, Pelé was beloved around the world — by the very poor, among whom he was raised; the very rich, in whose circles he traveled; and just about everyone who ever saw him play.
“Pelé is one of the few who contradicted my theory,” Andy Warhol once said. “Instead of 15 minutes of fame, he will have 15 centuries.”
Celebrated for his peerless talent and originality on the field, Pelé also endeared himself to fans with his sunny personality and his belief in the power of soccer — football to most of the world — to connect people across dividing lines of race, class and nationality.
He won three World Cup tournaments with Brazil and 10 league titles with Santos, his club team, as well as the 1977 North American Soccer League championship with the New York Cosmos. Having come out of retirement at 34, he spent three seasons with the Cosmos on a crusade to popularize soccer in the United States.
Before his final game, in October 1977 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., Pelé took the microphone on a podium at the center of the field, his father and Muhammad Ali beside him, and exhorted a crowd of more than 75,000.