Pelé was a Brazilian soccer player who was the best soccer player of all time because nobody could stop him from scoring. During his entire career, he averaged almost one goal in every game he played. He scored a Guinness World record 1,279 goals in 1,363 games because he could run faster than everyone else (under 11 seconds in the 100 meter dash) and jump higher than everyone else (more than six feet off the ground). He was also the highest-paid athlete in the world at the time he was playing.
In 2021, at age 81, Pelé was diagnosed with colon cancer, a disease that is often linked to unhealthful lifestyle factors. He had his colon removed and was placed on chemotherapy, but in early 2022, the cancer had spread to his intestines, lung and liver. He was hospitalized with kidney and heart failure and with a lung infection from COVID-19, and he died on December 29, 2022, at age 82. His 100-year-old mother survived him.
The Fédération Internationale De Football Association (FIFA) called him “the greatest of all time.” The International Olympic Committee called him the “Athlete of the Century,” and Time Magazine listed him as one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century. In 2000, the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS) named him World Player of the Century.
How Did He Get the Name Pelé?
Edson Arantes do Nascimento was born in 1940 in São Paulo, Brazil. His family was so poor that they couldn’t afford a real soccer ball, so he used either a grapefruit or a stocking stuffed with newspapers for a ball. His favorite soccer player was a local goalkeeper who was nicknamed “Bilé,” but when he called out the name to his friends his accent made the name sound like Pelé, so everyone called him Pelé and the name stuck.
By age 14, Pelé was so good that he was on adult teams and ended up the top scorer on his team. By age 15, he was playing professional soccer for a top local team, Santos, and at age 16, he led the league in scoring and was playing for the Brazil national team in world cup competition. At age 18, his Santos team won the Campeonato Paulista World Cup Tournament and he was the top scorer, with 58 goals. That record still stands today.
He was offered professional contracts by wealthy European clubs, such as Real Madrid, Juventus, Manchester United and Inter Milan. He signed with Inter Milan, but tore up the contract after fans of his Santos team rioted because they didn’t want him to leave his local team. In 1961, when Pelé was 21, the government of Brazil under President Jânio Quadros declared Pelé an “official national treasure” to prevent him from transferring to teams outside the country. The next year, at age 22, he was rated as the best player in the world. In each tournament he continued to score an incredible number of goals that were usually the most of any player in each tournament. In 1969, at age 29, the warring sides in the Nigerian Civil War agreed to a 48-hour cease-fire so they could watch Pelé play an exhibition game in Lagos.
New York Cosmos
After 19 seasons playing for Santos, he retired from Brazilian club football, but in 1975, at age 35, he signed to play for the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League. In 1977, at age 37, he led the Cosmos to the 1977 Soccer Bowl with the team drawing more than 60,000 fans to each of their playoff games. Later that fall, he closed out his career in a sold-out exhibition match between his two major clubs, the Cosmos and Santos. Pelé played the first half with the Cosmos, the second with Santos with the Cosmos winning 2–1 and Pelé scoring with a 30-yard free-kick for the Cosmos.
His Wives, Partners and Children
• In 1964, Pelé had a daughter with Anizia Machado, a housemaid.
• In 1966, at age 26, he married Rosemeri dos Reis Cholbi and they had two daughters and one son. They divorced in 1982.
• In 1981, at age 41, he was linked with 17 year old TV presenter Xuxa.
• In 1994, at age 54, he married psychologist and gospel singer Assíria Lemos Seixas, who in 1996 was artificially inseminated and gave birth to twins. The couple divorced in 2008.
• In 2010, at age 70, he started dating 35 year old Marcia Aoki, a Japanese-Brazilian importer of medical equipment from Penápolis, São Paulo. They married six years later in 2016.
Health Issues Leading to Colon Cancer
One of the greatest athletes of all time died from colon cancer, a disease that is associated with several unhealthful lifestyle choices (The Amer J of Gastroenter, Dec 2, 2022:10.14309). Fewer than 30 percent of colon cancer cases are traced to inherited causes (Gastroenterology, Jun 2010;138(6):2044–2058). In later life, Pelé suffered from severe hip damage that resulted in a hip replacement that limited him to living in a wheelchair. Being immobilized markedly increased his risk for weight gain, diabetes, heart failure, kidney failure and liver failure.
• In 2012 at age 72, he had his right kidney removed and later that year, he had his hip replaced.
• In 2017 at age 77, he was hospitalized for exhaustion.
• In 2019 at age 79, he had a urinary tract infection and had to have surgery to remove kidney stones.
• In 2020, his hip hurt him so much that he was not able to walk and spent most of his time at home.
• In September 2021, he had a cancer removed from the right side of his colon and started chemotherapy.
Important Lessons about Colon Cancer from Pelé’s Death
The same lifestyle factors that increase risk for colon cancer also increase risk for several other types of cancers, heart attacks, strokes, obesity, diabetes and dementia, so making the lifestyle changes recommended to reduce colon cancer risk will also help to protect you from other major diseases (Curr Colorectal Cancer Rep, 2014; 10(1): 45–54).
• Follow a plant-based diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, beans and other seeds
• Avoid or restrict mammal meat, processed meats, sugar-added foods, sugared drinks and fried foods
• Try to exercise every day
• Maintain a healthful weight
• Avoid smoking, alcohol and unnecessary drugs
Pelé (Edson Arantes do Nascimento)
October 23, 1940 – December 29, 2022