Ken Norton, the former heavyweight boxing champion who once broke Muhammad Ali's jaw, has died at the age 70.

Norton, who had been suffering from congestive heart failure, died yesterday in Arizona.

"He's been in rehab [for ill health] for almost a year and early this afternoon, he passed away," said Patrick Tenore, the boxer's corporate manager and friend.

"He was not only a tremendous boxer, but also the most righteous, polite, generous human being."

Norton took up boxing as a heavyweight when he was serving in the US Marine Corps, and turned professional after his discharge in 1967.

A power puncher, he burst on the scene in 1973 when he broke Ali's jaw during their first fight, claiming the North American Boxing Federation heavyweight title in a split decision over 12 rounds.

Ali narrowly won a split decision in a rematch nearly six months later and held on to his heavyweight title in a bruising third encounter in 1976.

Norton won a heavyweight title elimination tournament the following year and was subsequently declared champion by the WBC.

He lost the title in 1978 in a 15-round fight with Larry Holmes.

Norton retired from the ring in 1981. He ended his career with a record of 42 wins, seven losses and a draw. He had 33 knockouts.

He took on a second career as an actor, making more than a dozen television and film appearances.

His son Ken Norton Jr played in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers.