Muhammad Ali dies at 74

“Muhammad Ali, the three-time world heavyweight boxing champion who helped define his turbulent times as the most charismatic and controversial sports figure of the 20th century, died on Friday. He was 74,” as the New York Times is reporting.

“His death was confirmed by Bob Gunnell, a family spokesman.

“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.

“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.

“Loved or hated, he remained for 50 years one of the most recognizable people on the planet.

“In later life Ali became something of a secular saint, a legend in soft focus. He was respected for having sacrificed more than three years of his boxing prime and untold millions of dollars for his antiwar principles after being banished from the ring; he was extolled for his un-self-conscious gallantry in the face of incurable illness, and he was beloved for his accommodating sweetness in public.

“In 1996, he was trembling and nearly mute as he lit the Olympic caldron in Atlanta.”

The article is here.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.

One thought on “Muhammad Ali dies at 74”

  1. Muhammad Ali and I were both born in 1942, so I recall a lot of his fights. But the lasting image I have of him took place on Chestnut Street in West Philadelphia in either late 1969 or early 1970. (The occurrence is clear, but the year is a little foggy)

    I lived in Philly at the time and worked a dozen or so blocks from my apartment. I rode the subway/surface car to get to work, but if the weather was nice I’d sometimes walk home –– east on Chestnut to 40th, then south to Spruce where I lived.

    One afternoon as I was walking home, a limo began to pull into the curb on Chestnut about thirty feet in front of me. As it pulled in, a dozen or more young black kids suddenly came rushing out of nearby row houses and headed for the car as Ali was stepping out of it.

    I had a few seconds to think about what to do, and I decided to reach over some of the kids and shake his hand as I passed where he was standing. It was brief –– maybe 30-35 seconds –– but long enough to wish him luck with the pending appeal to his draft evasion conviction.

    He thanked me for the support, we shook hands, and that was that.

    Then, a few months later, the scene was repeated. As I was walking home on Chestnut Street, his car was back at about the same spot, and the same dozen or so kids were tagging after him.

    This time, when I paused to say hello, I mentioned that we had met in the same spot a few months earlier. He motioned toward a row house and said he came there often to visit to a friend.

    Again, I wished him luck with his appeal and we shook hands.

    I took that same walking route from work to home several dozen more times before leaving Philly and returning to California, but never saw Ali again.

    Combined, I spent perhaps a grand total of one minute talking to Muhammad Ali on those two occasions, but those few seconds are as vivid in my mind today as they were 46 or so years ago.

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