Muhammad Ali can still draw a big crowd.
The boxing great took center stage in his hometown Saturday night to celebrate the opening of the Muhammad Ali Center, a six-story tribute to Ali's remarkable career and a legacy to his ideals of peace and tolerance.
The Hollywood-style event, at a performing arts center next door to the Ali Center, drew a large crowd of actors, singers and athletes, as well as former president Bill Clinton.
"The world is a better place because of you," Clinton said. "You thrilled us as a fighter, and you inspired us even more as a force for peace and reconciliation, understanding and respect."
Clinton said Ali's greatness continued long after his boxing skills faded and his career ended. "As your body slowed down, your heart speeded up, and I never saw anything quite like it," Clinton said.
Ali entered the stage holding his wife's hand, and it was Lonnie Ali who spoke for him. She said the center's opening shows that "if you work hard and you believe in yourself, you can accomplish great things."
Video clips showed a young, fast-talking Ali and his epic bouts. Another showed a trembling Ali, who is battling Parkinson's disease, lighting the torch at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
A parade of speakers said the three-time heavyweight champion displayed courage outside the ring for his stance on such fundamental issues as war, civil rights and religious expression.
"Some people are overwhelmed by their dreams, but Ali's dreams made him bolder and stronger and fearless," said veteran broadcaster Sir David Frost. "His strength and his tenacity as a fighter captured the world's attention, but it was his insistence on his own value that made him a hero."
Bryant Gumbel said Ali showed remarkable character for his stance against the Vietnam War. As a conscientious objector, Ali refused to serve in the military during the war, a stand that cost him his heavyweight title. Gumbel said "it took bravery to get into the ring and risk his pretty face; it took real guts to step out of the ring and risk everything."
Across the street, about 200 fans chanted Ali's name when he arrived. He struck a boxing pose and waved.
Tammie Vest, 37, of Louisville recalled her family gathering around the television to watch the Ali fights. "He's a local hero," said Vest.
In a scene reminiscent of the era when Ali was in his prime as a fighter, a couple of peace activists protested the Iraq war. "I hate boxing, but I'm here for him," Carol Rawert Trainer said of Ali.
Lonnie Ali has said that her husband hopes the Ali Center will inspire visitors, especially youngsters, to reach their potential and promote peace.