Friday, June 03, 2016

Obituary: Muhammad Ali

Much-beloved and controversial boxing great Muhammad Ali, the self-styled "greatest," 74, has died after suffering from many years of Parkinson's.

Ali was one of the most famous people in the entire world and loved by millions. He was perhaps the most famous athlete of all time. He was to sports what Elvis Presley was to music; indeed, the two admired each other and were friends because they had so much in common. He also was a lightning rod in the 1960s because he refused to serve in the military being a CO. Unfortunately, the boxing bigwigs stripped him of his heavyweight title, and he spent the next several years fighting a felony conviction through the courts. He ultimately prevailed in the USSC. He returned back to boxing, regaining his title eventually, and even suffered from a broken jaw after being clobbered by Ken Norton, who passed away a few years ago.

The 1970s today are seen as the "golden age" of heavyweight boxing, and Ali was at the center of it. Everybody who was around then remembers his battles with Ken Norton, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman. These fights were epic even if Ali was a bit past his prime.

I have to say he was one of the most humble and kind people ever, having seen the real man in interviews, and not of those loudmouthed, showboating variety. Even when he was doing the showboating, he was highly entertaining, especially when he was with Howard Cosell. Here is a great example:

Ali, born Cassius Clay, changed his name in the mid-1960s when he joined the Nation of Islam. Later he became a regular Muslim.

Ali's personal life was also colorful. He married a few times, four times in all, before marrying for good Yolonda "Lonnie" Williams in 1986. They met when she was a little girl back in 1964. He had nine children.

Ali received the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award back in 2005. He spent his later years in Arizona, where he passed away this evening.

Ali had suffered for three decades from Parkinson's Disease, a progressive neurological condition that slowly robbed him of both his legendary verbal grace and his physical dexterity. A funeral service is planned in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

Even as his health declined, Ali did not shy from politics or controversy, releasing a statement in December criticizing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. "We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda," he said.

The remark bookended the life of a man who burst into the national consciousness in the early 1960s, when as a young heavyweight champion he converted to Islam and refused to serve in the Vietnam War, and became an emblem of strength, eloquence, conscience and courage. Ali was an anti-establishment showman who transcended borders and barriers, race and religion. His fights against other men became spectacles, but he embodied much greater battles.

Some of his most famous fights:

Ali vs. Norton:

Ali vs. Liston:

The Zaire fight with George Foreman:

The Thrilla in Manila with Joe Frazier:

Hardly a dry eye in the house when people saw this:

He stayed in the ring too long. The continued pounding he took is widely believed to have been a cause, if not the cause, of his health problems.

New York Times:

Ali was the most thrilling if not the best heavyweight ever, carrying into the ring a physically lyrical, unorthodox boxing style that fused speed, agility and power more seamlessly than that of any fighter before him.

But he was more than the sum of his athletic gifts. An agile mind, a buoyant personality, a brash self-confidence and an evolving set of personal convictions fostered a magnetism that the ring alone could not contain. He entertained as much with his mouth as with his fists, narrating his life with a patter of inventive doggerel. (“Me! Wheeeeee!”)

Ali was as polarizing a superstar as the sports world has ever produced — both admired and vilified in the 1960s and ’70s for his religious, political and social stances. His refusal to be drafted during the Vietnam War, his rejection of racial integration at the height of the civil rights movement, his conversion from Christianity to Islam and the changing of his “slave” name, Cassius Clay, to one bestowed by the separatist black sect he joined, the Lost-Found Nation of Islam, were perceived as serious threats by the conservative establishment and noble acts of defiance by the liberal opposition.

We will never see another one like him.

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