As the World Cup approaches, everybody wants a piece of Pelé

Now in his 70s, Pelé is beloved globally, but is no longer universally adored in homeland of Brazil.

Nothing here is a relative term. Cash has always flowed toward Pelé. He's had his rough times -- the demise of a construction business in the 1960s, the rubber-company liabilities that caused him to unretire and play for the Cosmos -- and none worse than the 2001 accusation that his sports marketing firm pocketed $700,000 that was due to UNICEF for a canceled exhibition. (UNICEF denied the allegation.) Claiming soon afterward that $10 million had been stolen from him, Pelé sued his partner of 16 years, Hélio Viana (who charged in the press that Pelé owed him $5 million), and shuttered the company. But he was also pulling in a reported $28 million a year then from MasterCard, Coca-Cola, Nokia and other corporate clients. And that was before he started making ads for Viagra.

The greatest player in the world, has cashed in on his charisma as the pitchman for many products.
Walter Iooss Jr. /SI

That prompted a nationwide rehashing of the most unseemly episode of his career: In 1991, Sandra Regina surfaced and claimed she was Pelé's child by way of his short relationship, at 18, with a Santos chambermaid. Pelé contested paternity until DNA tests and a court upheld the claim in 1996. When Sandra Regina died of breast cancer, his family sent a wreath and said Pelé was praying at home.

Pelé is still remembered and loved in the United States for his time with the New York Cosmos.
George Tiedmann/SI

The chances of that making the cut seemed slim. But you had to admit: The man had pretty much nailed it.

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