Pelé, Brazilian soccer legend and three-time World Cup winner in 1958, 1962 and 1970, died yesterday, December 29, at age 82, after suffering from colon cancer which he was diagnosed with in September 2021. Pelé was hospitalized late November and was in palliative care at a São Paolo hospital. His daughter Kely Nascimento wrote on Instagram, ‘All that we are is thanks to you. We love you endlessly. Rest in peace.’
The king of soccer first made history at age seventeen when he played for Brazil in the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden and scored in all three of Brazil’s knockout games. It was the beginning of a long and enduring career as a soccer player; he became the best and highest-paid athlete in the world. For nearly two decades, he inspired his fans and dazzled opponents with Brazilian club Santos and the Brazil national soccer team. Later he introduced Americans to soccer when he signed with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League in 1975.
“Victory” (1981, trailer)
He also appeared in a few movies, one of them “Victory” (1981, a.k.a. “Escape to Victory”), set in World War II, when the Nazi soccer team plays a team of Allied prisoners of war in Nazi-occupied Paris, and the French Resistance and British officers make plans for the team to escape. The POWs were played by Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, and former international soccer players such as Pelé, Bobby Moore (England), Paul Van Himst (Belgium), Osvaldo Ardiles (Argentina), and Co Prins (Holland), among others. The film was directed by then-74-year-old veteran filmmaker John Huston.
When promoting the film, Pelé visited Brussels in 1981. I don’t remember the exact date nor the location; I do remember that a short, improvized and somewhat chaotic press conference was held. When it was over and he was on his way to the parking lot where cars were waiting for him and his entourage, Pele was very accessible. I talked to him briefly about the film and what convinced him to be a part of it. During the event, he was joined by Belgian soccer player Paul Van Himst who also appeared in the film.
Pelé, born Edson Arantes do Nascimento on October 23, 1940, in Três Corações in Brazil, was also known as The Black Pearl, and became one of the most decorated athletes of his generation. His father was also a professional soccer player; his mother celebrated her 100th birthday last month.