Down a dirt road in the mountains of Minas Gerais, Pelé’s home state, Jorge Tavares received the news of the star’s death from a 4 a.m. newscast the following day.
As a boy, Tavares and his cousins listened to Pelé’s World Cup games on the radio. His dazzling performance inspired them to play a game they had never seen, first using a ball made of socks and string.
“We feel this a lot. He leaves a legacy, a person of color who was crowned king of soccer, and he also brought a lot of peace outside Brazil,” Tavares, a 67-year-old school-van driver, said in an interview at the barbed-wire fence outside his home. “He represented Brazil to everyone abroad.”
With Pelé’s death, Brazilians have lost a piece of their hearts.
On Rio de Janeiro’s Ipanema beach, the news broke when Paulo Vinicius was playing soccer with his 9-year-old nephew.
“Pelé represents the best of Brazil: its people, its working class,” said Vinicius, 38, a physical-education instructor. “Pelé gives a sense of identity to the Brazilian people.”
Roseli Augusto, 55, was at her little bar down a dirt road in the mountains of Minas Gerais when she received the news the star had passed.
“I was very sad, really shocked. Pelé is an idol, the best player in the world. He is certainly that,” said Augusto. She recalls her father taking a bus to the coastal city of Santos to watch Pelé play. “We grew up hearing about Pelé.”
“Many kids, many players, were inspired by him. He is our biggest sports idol.”
At the end of a dirt road in the mountains of Minas Gerais, Lucia Cunha, 68, learned from Facebook that the legend had passed.
As a girl, she had listened to his World Cup exploits while huddled around a radio with her siblings, and got news of his play at the Santos soccer club from newspapers used to wrap bread and other household goods. To this day, many of her family members are avid fans of Santos solely because of Pelé.
“He was a symbol of soccer, a great player, a simple, humble person, a person of God, a good person, who did everything that he could,” Cunha said.
In Santos, Nicolas Oliveira, 18, was outside the stadium along with roughly 200 others. Oliveira said even replays of Pelé’s sensational playing make him swell with emotion.
“Pelé is a Black man from the interior of Minas Gerais state,” Oliveira said. “I’m here because of what he did, for the soccer he played, for the soccer he improved and for the future players he helped mold and inspire.”
Everton Luz, a 41-year-old lawyer, was crying outside the hospital with a Santos club flag wrapped around him. He had come directly from work to pay tribute to the player whose performances had electrified his own dad, and prompted decades of stories.
Luz recounts those stories to his own two children, and shows them videos of the idol. He recalled seeing Pelé in person once, watching a game at a stadium.
“We managed to get close to his box, and he waved goodbye,” Luz said. “He was an example of the Brazilian, of what we could become.”
Brazil mourns Pelé, who made every part of the country proud