This past weekend we have lost a true original personality, Muhammad Ali. A three time world heavyweight boxing champion, Ali was born Cassius Clay in Louisville, KY and became as well known for his oratory skills as his fighting skills. Combined, this worked to make Ali a true original and American icon or, as he often proclaimed, “the greatest of all time”.
Post boxing career, Ali spent the final 32 of his 74 years suffering from Parkinson’s disease, which all but caused “The Louisville Lip” to be verbally silenced. However, while he spoke little and softly at that, his actions towards others continued to roar loudly through his live appearances and access to fans of all ages.
He was a natural underdog and always seemed to find a way to beat the odds, whether it be his 1963 knockout of heavily-favored champion Sonny Liston, his adopting of a new name and renouncement of the Vietnam-era draft which cost him his boxing title and resulted in a conviction and potential jail sentence, or his return and rise after years away from competitive boxing to become champion again. With his public persona, he improvised rhyming, decades before it became an art form within the hip-hop community, and forged a fearless, non-profane repertoire which endeared him to the old and young alike.
During the mid 1970s, Ali was involved in some of the most legendary fights in boxing’s history and the apex of that sports’ reign. He won and lost and won again the title, before relinquishing it for good in 1978, when he was beaten by a young Leon Spinks. Ali continued to pursue a fourth title into the early 1980s while (unbeknowst to him) alreadfy suffering the earliest phases of Parkinson’s.
As his health slowly declined, Muhammed Ali reinvented himself as a stately figure, who lived his faith and inspired millions and solidified his position as a historic American figure.