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Arthur Ashe's Death

Arthur Ashe

The life and death of Arthur Ashe:

He was a tennis great who spent his final years trying to teach others about the disease that would claim him. Arthur Ashe won three Grand Slam titles and was ranked as one of the best tennis players in the U.S.

Arthur Ashe playing tennis

He was the first black ever selected to the U.S. Davis Cup team and was the only black man to win the singles title at the U.S. Open, the Australian Open and Wimbledon.

He was born in Richmond, Virginia to Arthur Ashe Sr. and Mattie Cunningham Ashe. When Arthur was only six years old his mother died from complications related to a toxemic pregnancy, which is now called pre-eclampsia. Ashe and his younger brother Johnnie were raised by their father, a handyman who also worked for Richmond's recreation department.

Because of Arthur's slim build, his father banned him from playing football, which is what many of Arthur's peers were doing. However, the family lived on the grounds of Richmond's biggest blacks-only playground and it had a tennis court. So that's where Arthur set his sights.

He continued playing tennis in high school and accepted an offer to play tennis in St. Louis. So Arthur moved there and attended Sumer High School. Ashe started to get attention from Sports Illustrated, which happened again several times in his career.

Arthur Ashe on the cover of Sports Illustrated

He was awarded a tennis scholarship to UCLA and won the NCAA singles title in 1965. He also joined ROTC, which required him to join active military service in exchange for tuition money. Arthur joined the Army in 1966, was commissioned as a second lieutenant and was assigned to the U.S Military Academy at West Point – where he headed the tennis program. In 1969, his Army tour was up and Arthur was discharged.

Ashe won the US open in 1968, the Australian open in 1970 and the Wimbledon singles in 1975, beating Jimmy Connors.

When his tennis career ended in 1980, Arthur wrote for Time Magazine and did some commentary for ABC Sports. He also won election to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985 and was active in the civil rights movement, joining the anti-apartheid fight in South Africa.

Ashe was married to Jeanne Moutoussamy – a photographer - and they adopted a daughter whom they named Camera, after Mom's profession.

Surprisingly for an athlete who'd always been physically fit, Arthur suffered a heart attack in 1979. And in the early 1980's, he contracted HIV from a blood transfusion that he received during heart bypass surgery.

He revealed his illness in April 1992 and began working to teach others about HIV and AIDS. He recorded this message shortly before his death.

Arthur Ashe died of AIDS related pneumonia. Over 6000 mourners attended his funeral at the Arthur Ashe Athletic Center in Richmond. He's buried next to his mother in Woodland Cemetery in Richmond.

Arthur Ashe buried next to his mother in Woodland Cemetery in Richmond

He's remembered as a tennis great. The U.S. Open is played every year at New York City's Arthur Ashe Stadium.

New York City's Arthur Ashe Stadium