They also paid tribute to the boxing legend as a friend

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Soon after Muhammad Ali‘s death Friday at 74, former President Bill Clinton and wife Hillary Clinton paid tribute to the boxing legend as a friend, a man of powerful convictions and as “a blend of beauty and grace, speed and strength that may never be matched again.”

“Hillary and I are saddened by the passing of Muhammad Ali,” Bill, 69, said in an overnight statement to PEOPLE.

He continued, “We watched him grow from the brash self-confidence of youth and success into a manhood full of religious and political convictions that led him to make tough choices and live with the consequences.

“Along the way we saw him courageous in the ring, inspiring to the young, compassionate to those in need, and strong and good-humored in bearing the burden of his own health challenges.

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In his statement, Bill also called out the connections between Ali’s career in the ’90s and his own time as president: “I was honored to award him the Presidential Citizens Medal at the White House, to watch him light the Olympic flame, and to forge a friendship with a man who, through triumph and trials, became even greater than his legend.”

Ali’s funeral will be held in Louisville, Kentucky, his family said. He had been hospitalized earlier this week in Pohenix for respiratory issues.

But his illness never dulled his spirit.

As daughter Laila Ali told PEOPLE in March of her father (who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984, three years after retiring from boxing):

“He’s such a fighter, still, when at times he seems weak and not able to handle it,” she said. “He comes through stronger than ever. He’s still fighting regardless and I love my dad for that.”

Reporting by SANDRA SOBIERAJ-WESTFALL