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Art by Muhammad Ali, boxing icon, sells for close to $1 million in New York auction

U.S. boxing great Muhammad Ali poses during the Crystal Award ceremony at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 28, 2006. (Andreas Meier/Reuters)
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Dozens of drawings from American boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who died in 2016 at the age of 74 after years of battling Parkinson’s disease, sold for nearly $1 million at auction in New York City on Tuesday.

More than 30 of Ali’s drawings and sketches from the private collection of his mentor Rodney Hilton Brown were part of an auction of sports memorabilia called “TCM Presents … It’s a Knockout!” organized in New York by the British auction house Bonhams. The auction also included items related to Ali, or that used to belong to the boxer, like his boxing gloves.

The centerpiece of the collection, a 1978 painting entitled “Sting Like a Bee,” which Ali drew while starring in the historical drama “Freedom Road” in Mississippi, fetched $425,312 at auction — ten times the original estimated sale price of $40,000 to $60,000.

The second most popular item, a 1979 painting entitled “I Love You America,” was sold for $150,312, while the lowest-grossing item, a preparatory sketch of “Sting Like a Bee,” went for $637.

While a few items have not yet sold as of time of publication, Ali’s original artwork grossed nearly $950,000 overall.

Muhammad Ali was best known for his boxing, antiwar activism and conversion to Islam, but he also wrote poetry and made art in his spare time. He was the son of an artist, Cassius Clay Sr., who painted signs and billboards. Four of Clay Sr.'s canvases are also part of the Bonhams exhibit.

According to Bonhams, “Rodney Hilton Brown first met Ali in 1977 after a charity boxing match to benefit the Elma Lewis School of Art in Boston. Rodney was looking for Outsider Artists and new talent for his art gallery in New York. Armed with a briefcase of paints and canvases, Rodney asked Ali if he was interested in painting. To his delight, Ali agreed to meet him later that night.”

“That night,” the auction house explains, “Ali did three paintings and presented them to Rodney. … Rodney and Ali began to chat regularly by telephone and this led to regular painting sessions at Rodney’s apartment in New York or various hotel rooms wherever Ali happened to be staying. The two became firm friends, with Ali calling Rodney his ‘Vanilla Brother.’”

Brown is the author of “Muhammad Ali: The Untold Story: Painter, Poet and Prophet.”

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