As Muhammad Ali's kidneys failed, his grieving daughters joked that dialysis machine was his final eight count

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June 08, 2016 08:00 AM

Three-time world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali preached nonviolence outside the ring while wielding fists of fury inside it. Subscribe now for an inside look at his remarkable life, plus rare family photos, only in PEOPLE.

Shortly before Muhammad Ali surrendered his final bout in a Phoenix hospital last weekend, an alarm startled the grieving family members gathered at his bedside.

“The dialysis bell went ‘ding, ding, ding,’ ” Ali’s daughter Rasheda tells PEOPLE. “We all kind of stopped. I thought, ‘Somebody’s ringing a boxing bell.’ I looked at him instinctively and said, ‘Get your ass up!’ Everybody started laughing.”

“And I said, ‘Dad did that. He was looking for a way to make the mood more comical and stop us crying.’ I felt he rang that bell on purpose, and then we all burst in to tears again.”

Adds daughter Hana, “He’d gotten up off the mat so often, it was hard to believe he wouldn’t get up one more time.”

Muhammad Ali on the cover of PEOPLE

By late afternoon on Friday, Lonnie, most of Ali’s nine children and some of his adult grandchildren surrounded his hospital bed, whispering over the sound of the medical machines.

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“It was solemn,” Rasheda Ali says. “We felt he did hear us, but he was not really responding. There were moments the kids would go in and out of the room,” giving each other private time with their father.

Ali’s longtime doctor said his final goodbye just after 8 p.m. and was replaced by an imam, who led the family in a continuous Islamic prayer as the heart monitor recorded the final blips.

Muhammad Ali with his family at a recent birthday party
Courtesy Hana Ali

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“We were chanting very low, as his heart just kept beating,” says daughter Hana Ali. “The best part of him was the last to go. Every now and then we’d look up and the nurse would let us know he was still with us. Finally there was a flat line. We turned all the machines off so we didn’t hear the sounds. We all cried and kissed him one by one and walked out of the room. It was hard. But there was a sense of relief that he had passed in such a beautiful way. He looked peaceful.”

For much more about Muhammad Ali’s life and legacy, read the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

Ali’s time of death has been reported as 9:10 local time in Phoenix. Lonnie, two of Ali’s children and family friends accompanied the casket by private jet to Louisville on Sunday afternoon, where a small motorcade with a police escort ferried Ali’s body to a downtown funeral home.

“People on the street started to see the hearse, and of course it could only be one person,” said Ramsey, who was in the motorcade. “It was very moving to see. They came to the roadside, and people were removing their hats.”

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