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As one of the greatest international football players of all time, it’s understandable why fans have questions over how Pelé died and what caused his death.

Pelé, whose full name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento, was born on October 23, 1940, in Três Corações, Minas Gerais, Brazil. His professional international football career started as a teenager when he started playing for Santos Futbol Clube at 15 years old and Brazil’s national team at 16 years old. Pelé earned the nickname O Rei—”The King” in Portuguese—after he won his first FIFA World Cup with Brazil’s national team in 1958. He won his second FIFA World Cup in 1962 followed by his third in 1970. At the time of his career, Pelé—who is credited for connecting the phrase “The Beautiful Game” with football—held the Guinness World Record for the most goals with 1,279 goals in 1,363 games. After two decades in the sport, Pelé announced his retirement from professional international football in 1977.

In an interview with GQ UK in 2018, Pelé was asked about his favorite moment throughout his career. “I don’t have one favorite moment… there are too many. But there are a few memories that are special for me,” he said at the time. “For example, 1958 was my very first World Cup and I was 17 years old. It was the first time I had travelled by plane, and in Sweden everything was new and different. It was like a dream, and then all my dreams came true because my Brazil won the World Cup. I was so young and it felt like I had achieved everything. But, of course, there was much more to come.”

He continued, “So my other memory is when I scored my 1,000th goal. It was a penalty kick and for the first time in my whole career my legs were shaking, the whole of the Maracanã was shouting and screaming, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh, my God… I cannot miss!’ And that moment was completely different. When I was 17, it was my first World Cup, no responsibility, no nerves. But for my 1,000th goal I was Pelé, three-time world champion, most famous footballer. I never felt pressure like it.”

Pelé died on December 29, 2022. He was 82 years old. “Pelé changed everything. He transformed football into art, entertainment. Football and Brazil elevated their standing thanks to the King! He is gone, but his magic will endure. Pelé is eternal!” Neymar wrote in an Instagram post at the time. So how did Pelé die and what was his cause of death? Read on for what we know about how Pelé died and what caused his death.

How did Pelé die?

Pele 2 How Did Pelé Die? His Doctors Found a Suspicious Lesion in His Body Just 1 Year Before He Died

Image: Netflix /Courtesy Everett Collection.

How did Pelé die? Pelé died on December 29, 2022, at Albert Einstein Hospital in São Paulo, Brazil. He was 82 years old. “The king has passed,” Pelé’s agent, Joe Fraga, said in a statement at the time. Kely Nascimento, Pelé’s daughter with Rosemeri dos Reis Cholbi, also confirmed her father’s death in an Instagram post at the time. “All that we are is thanks to you,” she captioned a photo of her and others holding Pelé’s hand. “We love you endlessly. Rest in peace.”

Pelé’s death came a year after he underwent surgery at Albert Einstein Hospital to remove a tumor on the right side of his colon in September 2021. According to the hospital, the tumor was found in a routine cardiovascular and laboratory exam. “My friends, thank you very much for the kind messages. I thank God for feeling very well and for allowing Dr. Fábio and Dr. Miguel to take care of my health,” Pelé wrote in an Instagram post at the time. “Last Saturday I underwent surgery to remove a suspicious lesion in the right colon. The tumor was identified during the tests I mentioned last week.” He continued, “Fortunately, I’m used to celebrating great victories alongside you. I will face this match with a smile on my face, a lot of optimism and joy for living surrounded by the love of my family and friends.” Albert Einstein Hospital told NBC News at the time that Pelé in the intensive care unit, but was expected to be moved to another room soon.

The surgery came a week after news that Pelé had been hospitalized at Albert Einstein. “Guys, I didn’t faint and I’m in very good health. I went for my routine exams, which I had not been able to do before because of the pandemic. Let them know I don’t play next Sunday! 👍🏽” he wrote in a tweet at the time. Soon after the surgery, Pelé started chemotherapy treatment at Albert Einstein Hospital and underwent a second surgery for the tumor in his colon in December 2021. “The patient is stable, and is expected to be released in the coming days,” the hospital said in a statement at the time.

Eleven months later, in November 2022, ESPN Brazil reported that Pelé had been admitted to Albert Einstein Hospital for “general swelling,” along with cardiac issues and concerns that his chemotherapy treatment wasn’t having the expected effect. Kely posted on her Instagram at the time that there was “no new dire prediction.” She continued, “Lots of alarm in the media today concerning my dad’s health. He is in the hospital regulating medication. There is no emergency or new dire prediction. I will be there for New Years and promise to post some pictures.” A month later, in December 2022, Albert Einstein Hospital announced that Pelé’s cancer had worsened and that he had been put under  “elevated care” related to “kidney and cardiac dysfunctions.”

“We decided with the doctors that, for various reasons, it would be better for us to stay here with all the care that this new family at Einstein gives us!!,” Kely wrote in a post on her Instagram at the time . “We, as always, thank you for all the love you show us here in Brazil as well as around the world! Your love for him and your stories and prayers are a HUGE comfort because we know we are not alone.” She continued,  “We wish everyone who celebrates a Christmas that filled with family, full of children, some fighting 🤷🏽‍♀️ and TONS of Love and Health !!” Pelé died a week later.

Before his death, Pelé was honored by fans at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. “Friends, I am at the hospital making my monthly visit. It’s always nice to receive positive messages like this. Thanks to Qatar for this tribute, and to everyone who sends me good vibes! 🙏🏾,” Pelé captioned an Instagram photo in early December 2022 of his face and the words “Get well soon” projected on a building in Qatar. In another Instagram post at the time, Pelé also told his followers to remain calm and positive. “I’m strong, with a lot of hope and I follow my treatment as usual. I want to thank the entire medical and nursing team for all the care I have received,” he wrote. “I have a lot of faith in God and every message of love I receive from you all over the world keeps me full of energy. And watch Brazil in the World Cup too! Thank you so much for everything. 🙏🏾”

What was Pelé’s cause of death?

Pele 4 How Did Pelé Die? His Doctors Found a Suspicious Lesion in His Body Just 1 Year Before He Died

Image: Lev Radin/Everett Collection.

What was Pelé’s cause of death? Pelé’s cause of death was colon cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is 1 in 23 (4.3 percent) for men and 1 in 25 (4 percent) for women. The organization estimates 106,180 new cases of colon cancer and 44,850 new cases of rectal cancer in 2022. The American Cancer Society also reports that colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women in the United States and the second most common cause of cancer deaths for men and women combined. The organization also estimates that colorectal cancer is expected to cause about 52,580 deaths in 2022. Other celebrities who have died of colon cancer include Audrey Hepburn, Chadwick Boseman, Eartha Kitt and Kirstie Alley.

Before his death, Pelé had been open about his health. In 1977, he underwent surgery to remove his right kidney after complications from a broken rib. “He had the kidney removed a long time ago, his body is already used to it, it’s not a problem at all,” Pelé’s personal adviser, Jose Fornos Rodrigues, told the Associated Press in 2014 after Pelé was hospitalized for a urinary tract infection. Rodrigues told the Associated Press at the time that Pelé was in the intensive care unit undergoing “temporary” kidney treatment but was “lucid” and breathing and eating normally without any support. To aid in the infection, doctors administered intravenous kidney treatment, a type of hemodialysis to filter waste particles from his blood. “The only (type of) bacteria identified so far is sensitive to the antibiotics being administered,” Albert Einstein Hospital said in a statement at the time.

The infection came two weeks after Pelé underwent another surgery to remove kidney stones. Pelé was diagnosed with kidney stones after he had to cancel an event at the Pelé Museum in Santos, Brazil, due to abdominal pain. The surgery was successful and Pelé was released from the hospital a few days after the procedure. In 2012, Pelé underwent a total hip arthroplasty surgery on his right hip. “Everything went well, it was a very simple operation. He will probably leave tomorrow,” Rodrigues told the Associated Press at the time. Pelé underwent a second hip surgery in 2016. “[Pelé] took advantage of his holidays to spend time in New York with his daughters and granddaughters and he had this small reparatory procedure,” his press officer Pepito told Reuters at the time.

In December 2017, Pelé was photographed in a wheelchair at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. A month later, news broke that Pelé had collapsed and was hospitalized. “In the early hours of Thursday morning, Pele collapsed and was taken to hospital in Brazil where he has undergone a series of tests which appear to point to severe exhaustion,” the Football Writers’ Association said in a statement at the time. “He remains on fluids while doctors monitor his recovery. Thankfully, there is no suggestion of anything more serious than exhaustion.”

Pelé was hospitalized for another urinary tract infection in 2019, and underwent another surgery to remove kidney stones. “The procedure was successful and he is already in the room, in good general condition from the clinical point of view, according to his doctors,” Agencia Brasil reported at the time. Pelé also tweeted at the time, “Thank you for all your love! The anti-biotics are working and the tests are all ☑. I feel so much better, I think I’m ready to play again!”

In February 2020, Pelé’s son Edinho, who he shared with Rosemeri dos Reis Cholbi, revealed in an interview on TV Globo that his father was unable to walk on his own. “He’s embarrassed, he doesn’t want to go out, be seen, or do practically anything that involves leaving the house,” Edinho said at the time. “He is very sheepish, reclusive.” Edinho explained that Pelé’s condition was because he hadn’t done the physiotherapy his doctors prescribed after his hip surgery. “He’s pretty fragile. He had a hip replacement and didn’t have an adequate or ideal rehabilitation,” Edinho said. “So he has this problem with mobility and that has set off a kind of depression. Imagine, he’s the king, he was always such an imposing figure and today he can’t walk properly.”

Image: Penguin Publishing Group.

For more about Pelé, read his 2015 memoir, Why Soccer Matters: A Look at More Than Sixty Years of International Soccer. The book takes readers through Pelé’s 20-year international football career, from his three World Cup championship wins to his record-breaking 1,283 goals. The autobiography also dives into Pelé’s decision to retire from football in 1977, his work as international football’s global ambassador and how he’s inspired future generations of professional football players like Neymar, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. “I know in my heart that soccer was good to me, and great to the world….I saw, time and again, how the sport improved countless millions of lives, both on and off the field. For me, at least, that’s why soccer matters,” Pelé writes in Why Soccer Matters.

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