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.
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 on Oct. 23, 1940, in Tres Coracoes, 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 ever score in the men’s World Cup and the youngest to ever 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.
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 to 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.”
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.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.