Brazilian football legend Pelé, 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
Widely considered one of the greatest football players of all time, Pelé 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 in 1940 in Três Corações, about 250 kilometers northwest of Rio de Janeiro, Pelé 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, announcing himself on football’s biggest stage with a goal in his first match. 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 Pelé 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, Pelé joined the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League in 1975 and played three seasons there.
In his post-football life, Pelé 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, Pelé 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 eradicate illiteracy.
“Today, I insist on being involved in good causes, both with NGO’s, Public institutions and my sponsors. 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,” he posted.