|Biographical detail : ||The American athlete who “literally changed the world of sports forever.”
The former boxing champion, named “Athlete of the Century” by USA Today, was high on the list of other centennial selections for athletic achievement. The greatest orator sport has known who floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee.
Widely revered for speaking out courageously on public issues and standing by his convictions at great cost to his athletic career, Muhammad Ali adopted by the civil rights and anti-war movements became a symbol of defiance to the American establishment. Ali was stripped of the title in 1967 and forbidden to box for three years after refusing to fight in Vietnam.
The sublime ability and courage that Muhammad Ali brought to the ring made him the outstanding boxer of his generation. At the height of his fame, he could claim to possess the best-known face on earth. No face in sport has been more photogenic, or photographed. From the picture of the apparently happy family, which was later to fracture, to Ali driving with his friends, from the handsome young man in a tuxedo to, in 2003, ageing but dignified world figure pictured with the Dalai Lama. “Parachute me into High Street, China,” he once said, “and they’ll all know who I am. The Greatest.” Muhammad Ali was idolised from the cities of America to the ghettos of the third world.
Muhammad Ali first came to notice when he won the light-heavyweight title in the 1960 Olympics. The speed, tactical flexibility and agility under fire that were too much for his early opponents also proved too much for the menacing Sonny Liston, from whom he took the world heavyweight title in 1964. He was the first boxer in history to win the heavy weight title for three times. He returned, after he was stripped of the title in 1967, to the ring but in 1971 was defeated for the first time by Joe Frazier. In later years he took deliberately taking punches to wear down stronger opponents.
Ali’s speech, once so self-confident, became increasingly slurred. He was diagnosed as suffering from Parkinson’s disease, a condition that may or may not have been brought on or aggravated by boxing. Lived, with severe illness, in a Michigan farmhouse with his fourth wife until he passed away yet the charisma remained undimmed despite the toll of the illness.
In the later part of his life, Ali spent most of his time and income supporting causes that promote human rights and world peace.
He was born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky, and startled the sports world by announcing his conversion to Islam in 1964. Soon after, he changed his name from Cassius Clay – he called it a “slave name” – to Muhammad Ali. But many sports writers, upset that a boxer would dare make a political statement, refused for months to acknowledge his name change.
Muhammad Ali liked to be remembered as “a man who tried to unite his people through the faith of Islam.”
Muhammad Ali battled, for 32 years, with Parkinson’s disease he suffered with. When the news of his death was flashed tributes poured in from around the world. It was a measure of Ali’s extraordinary appeal that presidents and prime ministers, princes and pop stars united with countless ordinary fans in stirring tributes to his life and expressions of grief at his death.
The tide of the tributes confirmed that, for more than half a century, Muhammad Ali personalised many things to many people in many lands. There was simply no one like him – no fighter as thrilling, no voice as challenging, beguiling or defiant, no American so universally admired.
Thousands lined streets to honour Ali’s funeral held in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. His body travelled a 20-mile procession and at the head of a convoy of a 17-black-car cortege, down a broad street where the shops once barred black Americans and would not serve his mother a glass of water. Now it is called Muhammad Ali Boulevard and the pavements were crowded with people chanting his name.
A memorial service was held with eulogies by former US president Bill Clinton and actor Billy Crystal. The family said the celebration of his life would “reflect his devotion to all races, religions, and background.”