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Muhammad Ali funeral updates and memorable moments

June 10, 2016

A man reaches out to touch the hearse carrying the body of Muhammad Ali as it drives through Louisville on Friday. (Reuters)

The world lays The Greatest to rest on Friday, as boxing great Muhammad Ali’s life is remembered and celebrated.

A procession winds its way through Ali’s hometown of Louisville, Ky., starting at 9 a.m., followed by a memorial service at 2:30 p.m. EDT that is expected to draw Bill Clinton, Billy Crystal, Will Smith and more. The Post will broadcast the procession and memorial service live. The service is likely to start around 3 p.m.

Stay here for the latest updates, including guest speakers, memorable moments and more.

  • Scott Allen
  • ·

Imam Zaid Shakir at Muhammad Ali’s memorial service on Friday. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Following Bill Clinton’s eulogy at Muhammad Ali’s memorial service in Louisville on Friday, Imam Zaid Shakir asked those in attendance to rise, observe a moment of silence and reflect on what the champ meant to them as the Ali family exited the KFC Yum! Center.

Shakir then recited two poems he wrote about Ali and offered a closing prayer.

“His body is down, but his spirit is up,” Shakir said, “and it will stay up as long as we keep it up.”

  • Rick Maese
  • ·

Former President Bill Clinton arrives to give the eulogy at Muhammad Ali’s memorial service in Louisville. (David Goldman/Associated Press)

Muhammad Ali had his fingerprints all over his funeral service, and former President Bill Clinton joked that he’s not surprised Ali demanded at least one former president speak at the service. Clinton did not disappoint.

While the day’s speakers talked about Ali’s fighting days, his anti-war stance, his strong feelings about race and humanity, Clinton spoke largely about the second half of Ali’s life — the former champion’s struggle with Parkinson’s disease. Clinton said Ali wrote his own story, and somehow made the second half of his life more magnificent than the first.

“I will always think of Muhammad as a truly free man of faith,” Clinton said. “Being a man of faith, he realized he would never be in full control of his life. Something like Parkinson’s could come along. But being free, he realized that life still was open to choices. It is the choices that Muhammad Ali made that have brought us all here today.

“The second part of his life was more important because he refused to be imprisoned by disease that kept him hamstrung longer than Nelson Mandela was kept prisoner in South Africa. The second half of his life he perfected gifts that we all have — every single solitary one of us have gifts of mind and heart. It’s just that he found a way to release them in ways large and small.”

Clinton talked about both serious and playful side of Ali, remember the former champ telling a bad joke and giving the president bunny ears with his fingers. Clinton recalled the 1996 Olympics when he was “weeping like a baby,” as Ali lit the Olympic cauldron. And he talked about the people Ali touched, not just fighting in the ring but battling outside it, too.

“So I ask you to remember that,” Clinton said in closing. “We all have Ali’s story. It’s the gifts we all have that should be most honored today. He released them to the world, never wasting a day.
We should honor him by letting our gifts go among the world as he did. God bless you, my friends.”

  • Scott Allen
  • ·

Sportscaster Bryant Gumbel delivers a eulogy during Muhammad Ali’s memorial service on Friday in Louisville. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

During his eulogy at Muhammad Ali’s memorial service on Friday in Louisville, broadcaster Bryant Gumbel wondered whether anyone had ever scripted a greater life arc than Ali.

Gumbel marveled that Ali had gone from “one of the country’s most polarizing figures to arguably one of its most beloved…without changing his nature” and “gave us levels of strength and courage we didn’t even know we had.”

“He was a man for all ages,” said Gumbel, who ended his eulogy with the story of the first time he shook Ali’s hand in 1966, when he came to Gumbel’s Chicago neighborhood after defeating George Chuvalo to retain the world heavyweight title in Toronto.

“I was 17, I was awestruck, and man I thought he was the greatest,” Gumbel said. “Now half a century and a lifetime of experiences later, I am still awestruck and I am convinced more than ever that Muhammad Ali is the greatest.”

  • Rick Maese
  • ·

Muhammad Ali, Lonnie Ali and comedian Billy Crystal together at the boxing legend’s “Celebrity Fight Night” in 2013. (Mike Moore/Getty Images for Fight Night)

Billy Crystal is more than a comedian, just as Muhammad Ali was more than a boxer. And the connection they shared was more than a friendship.

Crystal moved the Louisville crowd from laughter to tears with his eloquent eulogy, as he traced his relationship with Ali back its earliest days. Crystal was a young stand-up back in 1974, invited by Dick Schaap to perform part of his routine in front of Ali. It involved Crystal imitating Ali and renowned broadcaster Howard Cosell.

“[Schaap] said, ‘How should I introduce you? Nobody knows who you are?’ ” Crystal recalled. “I said, ‘Just say one of Ali’s closest and dearest friends.’ ”

That line prompted applause from two people — Crystal’s wife and agent, he said.

Crystal wowed the Louisville crowd with impressions of both Cosell and Ali — just as good today as it was four decades earlier. Back then, it brought Crystal and Ali together.

“When I was done, he gave me this big bear hug and he whispered in my ear, ‘You’re my little brother,’ ” Crystal said, “which is what he always called me.”

Crystal remembered sitting next two Ali two decades later at Cosell’s funeral, a solemn occasion, as Crystal reminded the crowd.

“He quietly whispered to me: ‘Little brother, do you think he’s wearing his hairpiece?”

“I don’t think so,” Crystal told Ali

“Then how will God recognize him?”

“I said, ‘Champ, once he opens his mouth, God will know.’ ”

Crystal was both funny — “The most perfect athlete you ever saw — and those were his own words,” Crystal said of his friend — and touching. He said it’s hard to appreciate who Ali was and what Ali meant without having lived through Ali’s era. Crystal compared him with Picasso and Shakespeare.

“He was a tremendous bolt of lightning, created by Mother Nature out of thin air,” he said.

“He was still a kid from Louisville who ran with the gods and laughed with the crippled and smiled at the foolishness of it all,” Crystal said. “He is gone, but he will never die. He was my big brother.”

  • Rick Maese
  • ·

The youngest speaker at Friday’s service was Alessandra DiNicola, the daughter of Ali’s longtime attorney, Ron DiNicola. She was born on the former boxer’s birthday and goes simply by the name “Ali.”

“He used to call me the Little Greatest,” she told the crowd. “We can all learn from Muhammad’s example of kindness and understanding.”

She then shared Ali’s recipe for life, which Ali first shared with journalist David Frost more than 45 years ago. As has been recounted before, Frost asked Ali how he’d like to be remembered.

“I’d like for them to say he took a few cups of love,” Ali told Frost. “He took one tablespoon of patience, one teaspoon of generosity, one pint of kindness. He took one quart of laughter, one pinch of concern, and then he mixed willingness with happiness, he added lots of faith and he stirred it up well. Then he spread it over a span of a lifetime and he served it to each and every deserving person he met.”

  • Scott Allen
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University of Louisville student Natasha Mundkur never met Muhammad Ali, but she said Ali helped her find her voice after she was bullied and called a terrorist as a kid growing up in West Virginia.

Mundkur, a Louisville sophomore and a former member of the Muhammad Ali Center Council of Students, channeled Ali’s message in her eulogy on Friday.

“Impossible is not a fact,” she said. “Impossible is an opinion. Impossible is nothing.”

Mundkur later said that Ali “lives in all of us” and “his story is far from over.”

  • Scott Allen
  • ·

Muhammad Ali’s wife Lonnie Ali speaks memorial service, Friday, June 10, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Lonnie Ali, Muhammad Ali’s fourth wife, delivered the first of nine eulogies at her husband’s memorial service on Friday in Louisville.

“From wherever you are watching, know that we have been humbled by your heartfelt expressions of love,” she said.

Lonnie, who married Ali in 1986, recalled the story of 12-year-old Cassius Clay having his Schwinn bicycle stolen in Louisville. He complained to a policeman, the late Joe Martin, who happened to operate a boxing gym in his spare time. Martin would become Clay’s first trainer.

“America must never forget, when a cop and an inner city kid talk to each other, miracles can happen,” Lonnie said.

Later in her eulogy, Lonnie said: “He was drawn to the poor and the forgotten. Muhammad fell in love with the masses and they fell in love with him.”

  • Rick Maese
  • ·

President Barack Obama looks at photos of Muhammad Ali. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama spent Friday celebrating his daughter’s high school graduation in Washington, but he sent senior advisor Valerie Jarrett to Louisville to read his moving speech.

“Muhammad Ali was America,” Jarrett said, “Muhammad Ali will always be America. What a man, what a spirit, what a joyous, mightiful champion.”

The parallel between a champion and his country were poignant. Obama’s speech made clear that Ali was complex and not always easy to define.

“The man we celebrate today is not just a boxer or a poet or an agitator or a man of peace,” Jarrett read. “He was not just a Muslim or a black man or a Louisville kid… He wasn’t even just the greatest of all time. He was Muhammad Ali.”

What did that mean? Obama said Ali was “brighter and more original and influential than just about anyone of his era.

“You couldn’t have made him up,” Jarrett read. “And yes, he was pretty too.

“It seemed sometimes the champ was too big for America,” she noted, before drawing out the comparison. Like his country, Ali was “brash, defiant, pioneering, joyful, never tired, always game to test the odds.

“He was our most basic freedoms: religion, speech, spirit,” she said.

“Like America, he was always very much a work in progress. We do him a disservice to gauze up his story, to sand down his rough edges, to talk only of floating like butterflies and stinging like bees.”

She called him a “radical.”

“His jabs knocked some sense into us — yes, they did — pushing us to expand our imagination and bring others into our understanding. Now there were times when he swung a bit wildly — that’s right — wound up and accidentally might have hit the wrong opponent — as he was the first to admit. Through all his triumphs and failures, Ali achieved the enlightenment and inner peace that we are all striving towards.”

  • Nick Martin
  • ·

Rabbi Joe Rooks Rapport, a senior rabbi at The Temple in Louisville spent his five minutes at Muhammad Ali’s memorial service sharing a story he felt best exemplified Ali, who he called the heart of the city.

Rapport recounted a tale featuring a random hitchhiker, two stubborn men and plenty of religious books. While riding with his daughter, Hana, to pick up a set of bibles and korans from a local bookstore, Ali noticed an elderly hitchhiker sporting a bible on the side of the highway. They stopped to pick the man up, who told the duo he was on his way home from church and needed to go a few miles down the road. When they arrived at the man’s house, Ali revealed their plans and the man told The Greatest he had recently suffered a stroke and was forced out of work. The man attempted to donate three bibles to their mission, which Ali demanded he pay for with a large sum of cash he had on his person. The man rebuffed the offer, but as Rapport tells it, Ali wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“‘Take the money, man, I’m trying to get into heaven,'” Rapport said. “The man replies, ‘So am I!'”

After some back-and-forth over the payment, Ali slipped the man’s wife the money in a napkin on the kitchen table. Then, before they leave, Hana gave the man her phone number and told him to give her a call should he ever need a ride. Later in the car, Ali asked whether Hana intended on following through on her offer.

“‘Would you really go out of your way and pick him up and drive him all the way home?’ She says, ‘Yes.’ With tears in his eyes, he says, ‘That’s me, in you.'”

Rapport then implored the crowd to do their best moving forward to follow in Hana’s footsteps and embody Ali’s compassion.

“I am Ali. I am not the fighter that Ali was and I might not have the courage he never lacked. And I’m certainly not as pretty,” Rapport said. “In my prayers, I am Muhammad Ali.”

Rapport had the room repeat the words, “I am Ali” before signing off.

  • Scott Allen
  • ·

Chief Sidney Hill of the Onondaga Indian Nation thanked Muhammad Ali for his support of Native Americans at Friday’s memorial service in Louisville.

“We know what he was up against, because we’ve had 524 years of survival training ourselves,” Hill said, as translated by Chief Oren Lyon, the faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation.

In 1978, Ali promised to support the American Indian Movement in the opposition to proposed legislation that would rob Native Americans of their land entitlements and other treaty rights.

  • Rick Maese
  • ·

Rabbi Michael Lerner speaks during Muhammad Ali’s memorial service, Friday, June 10, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Well, it was bound to get political, right?

Rabbi Michael Lerner hit most of touchy political subjects that might be absent at most funerals. Not Muhammad Ali’s, though.

Lerner pointed out that when Ali was heavyweight champion, he know there were more important things than a title belt. He sacrificed his championship belt, sacrificed his popularity and put in jeopardy his career to speak out against the war Vietnam.

“There was something about Muhammad Ali that was different,” Lerner said. “When he had that recognition, he used it to stand up to an immoral war and say, ‘No, I won’t go.’ It’s for that reason that tens of millions of Americans who don’t particularly care about boxing do care about Muhammad Ali — because he was a person who was willing to risk great honor he got and great fame he got to stand up for the beliefs that he had and speak truth to power. … He stood up and was willing to take that kind of risk because of that kind of moral integrity.

“The way to honor Muhammad Ali is to be Muhammad Ali today. That means everyone of us here and everyone listening, it’s up to us to continue that ability to speak truth to power.”

And on cue, Lerner spoke his truths. He railed against the 1 percent who he says control the nation’s money and power, those who use violence and flex their military muscle. He spoke out against torture and police brutality, offering advice to everyone from leaders in Turkey to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Tell the judges to let out of prisons the many African-Americans swept up by racist police and imprisoned by racists judges,” he said at one point. “Many of them in prison today for possession like marijuana that white people get away with all the time.”

When he offered advice to the next president of the United States, he used the female pronoun, which prompted a standing ovation and drew a chuckle from former President Bill Clinton, one of the scheduled speakers.

  • Glenn Yoder
  • ·

As Muhammad Ali’s memorial service continues, Post reporter Jason Rezaian has a very personal recollection to recount:

I am one of literally billions of people affected by the life and actions of Muhammad Ali.

When my wife visited me at Evin prison on March 14, 2015, she smiled in a way I had not seen since before our arrest nearly eight months earlier.

“Muhammad Ali issued a statement calling for your release,” she said, beaming.

Initially I thought she was just trying to lift my spirits. I had told her recently that I did not want to hear any more bad news about my situation, which looked hopeless.

It was the day before my 39th birthday and I was at a low point, suffering from the weight of a long-forced isolation, but once she convinced me that it was indeed true, I cried the happiest tears of my captivity and felt strong for the first time in months.

It was a turning point for me. The public acknowledgment by Muhammad Ali, one of the most unifying figures in the world, that he believed I was innocent of any wrongdoing meant everything to me.

That blow had impact.

As he is everywhere, Ali is revered in Iran. The people love him as a champion of sports, but also charity, and authorities have a deep attachment to him as representing their stated ideology of upholding Islamic values and lifting up the oppressed. There’s one problem: He’s American.

A domestic Iranian news agency wrote “one of the most astounding moves by the U.S. government and Rezaian’s family was bringing the famed American boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who is very popular in Iran, into Jason’s freedom campaign. They used his popularity to influence Iranian public opinion.”

There is an odd truth to this logic, but not the one they intended. After Ali released the statement on my behalf, several of my prison guards told me they had heard about it, and some began to treat me differently — better, and with more respect. I like to think that his words made them doubt the forces who signed their paychecks.

Muhammad Ali, considered one of contemporary Islam’s most beloved figures, was always a hero who transcended faith, race and borders. He never belonged to anyone, but he is part of everyone. It is worth noting that in Iran he is, and will always be, known as “Muhammad Ali Clay,” a clear reminder of his pre-Muslim roots, a characteristic trait that in most cases the Islamic Republic refuses to acknowledge.

That Muhammad Ali, a black Muslim, is one of our greatest national icons speaks to what is right about this country, and what will continue to perplex Iran, and other Islamic states, about America’s enduring potential and its long reach.

  • Scott Allen
  • ·

U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch speaks during the Muhammad Ali funeral service at the KFC YUM! Center in Louisville on Friday. (EPA/ERIK S. LESSER)

“Where others saw differences, Ali and I saw kinship,” Hatch, a Mormon, said at Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center. “We were devoted to our families and each of us devoted to our faiths.”

Ali’s widow, Lonnie, asked Hatch to speak at the service.

“Our differences fortified our friendship; they did not define it,” said Hatch, who once attended a performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with Ali.

  • Rick Maese
  • ·
Rev. Kevin Cosby speaks at a memorial service for the late boxer Muhammad Ali. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

Rev. Kevin Cosby speaks at a memorial service for the late boxer Muhammad Ali. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

After introductions, the first of the service’s speakers was Rev. Dr. Kevin Cosby, a senior pastor at St. Stephen Church in Louisville who spoke eloquently and passionately about Muhammad Ali’s relationship with his race.

Cosby began by noting that for years this country’s governing bodies, the U.S. Constitution and the Supreme Court rendered decisions that limited the rights of African-Americans. Even the world of entertainment “infused in the psyche of the negro that he was inferior.”

Then came Ali — or as Cosby said, “and then from Louisville emerged a silver-tongued poet who took the ethos of somebody-ness to unheard of heights. Before James Brown said, ‘I’m black and I’m proud, Muhammad Ali said, ‘I’m black and I’m pretty.’

“Black and pretty was an oxymoron,” Cosby said. “Blacks did not say pretty.”

Cosby said Ali gave blacks in this country something to aspire to, something from which to draw inspiration.

“He dared to love black people at a time when black people had a problem loving themselves,” he said. “He dared to affirm the beauty of blackness, he dared to affirm the power and the capacity of African-Americans. He dared to love America’s most unloved race.

“I am not saying Muhammad Ali is the property of black people. He is the property of all people. But while he is the property of all people, let us never forget that he is the product of black people in their struggle to be free.”

  • Missy Khamvongsa
  • ·
(Associated Press)

(Associated Press)

As the memorial service gets underway, PostEverything looks back at one of the many times Muhammad Ali wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, in this case about the 1984 presidential election:

About a month before the presidential election of 1984, Muhammad Ali publicly endorsed President Ronald Reagan’s reelection bid. He did so against the backdrop of a tony Los Angeles gathering of black Republicanswhere attendees and members of the media watched in near silence. “He’s keeping God in schools and that’s enough,” the 42-year old boxing icon announced, as reporters peppered him with questions.

It’s a scene that doesn’t fit with our memories of Ali, but one that reflects the complexity of his years in the public eye and his complicated politics.

Celebrity endorsements happen all the time, of course, and a legendary black athlete supporting a Republican wasn’t unique. Jackie Robinson was a high-profile Republican until he broke with the party over its nominations of Sen. Barry Goldwater in 1964 and former vice president Richard Nixon in 1968. In 1984, heavyweight boxing champions Floyd Patterson and Joe Frazier also publicly declared their support for President Reagan.

But Ali’s endorsement was remarkable because of who he was and what he represented. His radicalism. His unapologetic blackness. His athletic dominance. His embrace of Islam and his relationship with Malcolm X. His unwavering belief in justice for his people and all people — he was first known as an activist for his stand against the Vietnam War, which lead to a conviction (later overturned by the Supreme Court) for draft evasion. He was, as Walter Mosley writes, “sweat and bone, blood and pain,” a man who transformed the world with “sweat and strain.”

Click here for the fill story.

  • Scott Allen
  • ·

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrives for the Muhammad Ali funeral service at the KFC YUM! Center in Louisville on Friday. (EPA/ERIK S. LESSER)

After a funeral procession that was attended by an estimated 100,000 people, the memorial service for Muhammad Ali began at the KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville at 3:13 p.m. ET.

Hamzah Abdul Malik, the founding imam of Memphis’s Midtown Mosque, opened the service with a Koranic recitation that was followed by the English translation.

The complete schedule for Friday’s service can be found here.

The first speakers include Dr. Kevin Cosby, who is the senior pastor of St. Stephen Church in Louisville, U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rev. Msgr. Henry Kriegel, the pastor at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Erie, Pa., the hometown of Ali’s long-time attorney, Ron DiNicola.

  • Glenn Yoder
  • ·

In this piece, The Post’s James Higdon details Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville and the company that Ali will join, including from the sports world:

He also will join a number of famous athletes, including baseball players like Pete “The Gladiator” Browning, the original “Louisville Slugger;” Phil and John Reccius, brothers who both played in the major leagues; and John Lewis Dodge, Jr., who was killed by a pitch to the face on June 19, 1916. There are also basketball players to keep Ali company, like Derek Smith, a member of the University of Louisville’s “Doctors of Dunk” squad and the inventor of the high five, who was buried here in 1996.

Cave Hill hosts not just players, but sports executives, men like Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., creator of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby; Harry Pulliam, the baseball executive who united the National and American leagues to play the first World Series; and John A. “Bud” Hillerich, founder of the company that makes the Louisville Slugger.

Here also lies Col. Harland Sanders, whose white hair, goatee and suit became a global symbol of fried chicken. And there’s Jim Porter, the 19th century’s tallest man at 7 feet, 8 inches, or as he liked to say, “6 feet, 20 inches.” On his tour of America in 1849, Charles Dickens wrote that to watch Porter among men who were 6 feet tall was to watch “a lighthouse walking among lamp posts.” After today, Jim Porter will no longer be Cave Hill’s biggest man.

  • Scott Allen
  • ·

Muhammad Ali fought twice at the Capital Centre in Landover, both times in the later stages of his career, but fans flocked to Abe Pollin’s arena to watch Ali even before the legend was there in the flesh.

In 1974, a Washington Capitals game was rescheduled so that Capital Centre would be available for a closed-circuit telecast of the Ali-George Foreman bout in Zaire. In 1975, 11,178 fans paid as much as $50 to watch Ali fight Chuck Wepner on TV in the arena.

On March 12, 1976, Pollin announced that Ali would fight Jimmy Young at Capital Centre on April 30. It would be the first heavyweight title bout in the area since May 23, 1941, when Joe Louis won by disqualification over Buddy Baer in the seventh round at Griffith Stadium.

“We will have a financial risk,” Pollin said. “I would hope to make some money, but I want most of all to bring a championship fight to Capital Centre. We promised to bring a championship bout here. Financially, boxing has not been a winner for us, but we did not lose on our live shows. We topped the country with our closed-circuit telecast attendances.”

Click here for the full story of Ali’s two fights in the D.C. area.

  • Matt Bonesteel
  • ·

Tickets to Muhammad Ali’s memorial service Friday afternoon at Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center were free, and went quickly. Those who are lucky enough to have a ticket won’t be able to purchase concessions, but they won’t go hungry or thirsty:

Plaschke’s Twitter feed has been a wonder on Friday.

The service is now not scheduled to start until 3 p.m. EDT, following Ali’s private internment in Cave Hill Cemetery.

  • Matt Bonesteel
  • ·

A mourner from Louisville celebrates the fallen champion. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

There will be a public memorial service for Muhammad Ali at Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center following his private internment at Cave Hill Cemetery. Ali’s funeral procession is taking a little longer than anticipated, so the start of the service has been delayed.

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