A smoker and drinker even in his playing days, Socrates had been on a life support system in hospital in Sao Paulo since Thursday when he was admitted suffering from food poisoning.
“The (hospital) announces with profound sadness the death of ex-player Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira at 0430 (local time) as a result of septic shock,” the statement said.
Socrates, who had a degree in medicine himself and was known at the height of his fame as ‘Dr Socrates’, had been taken to hospital three times since August, when he spent nine days there due to a digestive haemorrhage caused by excessive drinking.
The former attacking midfielder, who played for Brazil at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, spent 17 days in the hospital in September with liver trouble and had been recommended for a transplant.
“Socrates was a buddy, a great friend, one of those figures football’s going to miss for everything he represented,” his former Brazil team mate Junior told Reuters on the phone from his Rio de Janeiro home.
“Whoever shared life with him enjoyed the special person he was, intelligent, cultured, fun, a ball ace. He’s the kind of figure hard to find in football,” added the left back of the 1982 and 1986 Brazil teams.
Born on February 19, 1954 in Belem, a northern city on the banks of the Amazon river, Socrates started out at Botafogo-Ribeirao Preto where he became their top player despite also studying at the local university.
He joined Sao Paulo club Corinthians in 1978 and stayed for six years.
Bearded, thin and popularly known as ‘Magrao’, or the Big Skinny One, Socrates was part of a golden Brazilian generation that included midfielder Zico, Junior, Falcao and Eder.
Corinthians, favourites to win the league championship later on Sunday, said: “Today, which should be only a day of joy as the ‘Brasileirao’ is settled, started sadly for Brazilian football, mainly for Corinthian (fans).
“(We) say goodbye to ‘Magrao’ with sadness but we also remain grateful for the honour of having seen one of the greatest players in football wearing the white and black shirt in so many games.
“Thank you for the beautiful goals, touches of genius, majestic football only Socrates played,” the club said in a statement on their website (www.corinthians.com.br) accompanied by a picture of Socrates during his playing days.
The Brazilian Football Confederation announced a minute’s silence would be observed before kickoff at all matches on Sunday, final day of the championship.
The brilliant Brazil side of 1982 was regarded as one of the best never to win the World Cup title after they were upset by eventual champions Italy in the second group phase of the tournament in Spain.
An astute passer and reader of the game, he earned his nickname of ‘The Golden Heel’ with a uniquely nonchalant playing style, using the backheel to telling effect and scoring memorable goals with both feet.
His languid penalty-taking style, eschewing the traditional run-up to merely step up to the ball and lift it into the net, backfired at the 1986 World Cup where Brazil lost to France in the quarter-finals on penalties after one of his lazy efforts was saved.
Winner of 60 caps with Brazil, Socrates scored 21 goals and was also known for strong views on both football and politics.
Former Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, who trained Socrates with the national team in 1983-84, told Reuters: “He was the most intellectual of the players I worked with, intelligent, objective and he had opinions that were his own and firm about anything and mainly politics.
“He was a genius on the field. He marked a generation with the technical quality and intelligence of his football… He was one of the great icons of that (1982) team that marveled the world.”
At Corinthians, during a time of military government, he was a leading figure in the Democracia Corinthiana movement where everything was decided by a vote of directors, technical staff and players.
The team would send messages to the country’s government by taking to the field with banners demanding ‘Direct elections now’ or “I want to vote for President’.
Socrates had a short and unhappy playing spell in Italy with Fiorentina and, shivering from the cold in a bizarre postscript to his career, also made a brief appearance in 2004 as a substitute for English minor league side Garforth Town.
Latterly, he gave seminars about leadership and human relations while also practising as a doctor and working on a fiction book about the 2014 World Cup due to be held in Brazil.
Brazil’s former President Lula said: “Dr. Socrates was a star on the field and a great friend. He was a model citizen (and) an example of intelligence and political consciousness, in addition to his immense talent as a professional footballer.
“Socrates’s generous contribution to Corinthians, football and Brazilian society will never be forgotten. In this moment of sadness, we offer our solidarity to the doctor’s wife, family and friends,” Lula, a lifelong Corinthians fan, said in a statement.