Friends, family and fans paid heartbreaking, poignant, and often hilarious final tributes to Muhammad Ali on Friday evening, affirming once and for all why he will always be known as The Greatest.
Wife Lonnie, daughters Maryum and Rasheda, and friends Bryant Gumbel, Billy Crystal, and Bill Clinton were all among those reading eulogies to the man who spent the first half of his life fighting for sport, and the second fighting for justice, equality, and peace.
Bill Clinton, the last to speak, praised Ali not just for his ‘strength and speed’ as a boxer, but for his life after hanging up his gloves, when he refused to bow out and fade away, despite the crippling effect that Parkison’s had on his body.
He said: ‘I spend a lot of my time now as I get older, and older, and older, trying to figure out what makes people tick. How do they turn out the way they do? How do some people avoid being victims and rise from defeat?
‘I think he decided very young to write his own life story. I think he decided before he could have possibly worked it all out and before fate and time could work their will on him, he decided that he would not be unempowered
‘He decided that not his race, nor his place, nor the expectations of others would strip from him the power to write his own story.’
Sportscaster Bryant Gumbel summarized the loss os Ali, saying that ‘the world needs a champion like Ali now… but this time our beloved champion is down and he won’t get up’, while daughter Maryum read a poem entitled ‘Our dear father’ in honor of Ali’s rhyming talents
Rasheda Ali-Walsh, one of Muhammad Ali’s daughters, is overcome with emotion after delivering her eulogy at the memorial service
John Ramsey, a TV and radio personality, as well as a close family friend of Ali, recalled one of the champion’s many memorable quotes, saying: ‘He once said, “Serving others is the rent you pay for your place here on earth.” Well your rent is paid in full.’
Clinton said that Ali’s greatest strength, beyond his mere skill as a boxer, was the fact that he never let anyone dictate the terms of his life
Thousands of people gathered at the KFC Yum! center in Ali’s hometown of Louisville to pay tribute to the boxing great
He continued: ‘I will always think of Muhammad as a truly free man of faith. Being a man of faith he realized he would never be in full control of his life. But being free he realized that life was still open to choices. It is the choices that Muhammad Ali made that bring us all here today in prayer and love.
‘The first part of his life was determined by his truly unique gifts. We should never forget them. But the second part of his life was more important because he refused to be imprisoned by a disease that kept him hamstrung longer than Nelson Mandela was in prison.
‘He professed gifts that we all have. Every single one of us have gifts of mettle and heart, he just found ways to to release them.’
Billy Crystal, a friend of Ali’s for more than 40 years, paid an emotional tribute to The Greatest, saying: ‘Thirty five years after he stopped fighting, he is still the champion of the world.
‘Last week when we heard the news the world stopped. There were no wars, no terrorists, no suffering – the world took a breath and sighed.’
Recalling his favorite moment with Ali, he described being at the champion’s retirement party in 1979 when he did an impression of the boxer spanning his entire career, from his teens to his 30s.
Afterwards, he said Ali came up to him and whispered in his ear: ‘Little brother, you made my life better than it was.’ Speaking of Ali, Crystal added: ‘But didn’t he make all our lives a little bit better than they were?’
Concluding his speech, Crystal compared Ali to ‘a tremendous bolt of lightning, created by Mother Nature out of thin air, a fantastic combination of power and beauty.
‘We’ve seen still photographs of lightning at the moment of impact, ferocious in its strength, magnificent in its elegance. And at the moment of impact it lights up everything around it so you can see everything clearly. Muhammad Ali struck us in the middle of America’s darkest night.
‘Ali forced us to take a look at ourselves. This brash young man thrilled us, angered us, confused us, challenged us, ultimately became a silent messenger of peace and taught us that life is best when you build bridges between people and not walls.’
Also paying tribute was sportscaster Bryant Grumbel, who marked the enormity of Ali’s loss by saying: ‘The world needs Ali now. The world needs a champion who always works to bring the economic and social divisions that split our nation to the fore.
‘We need the strength, the hope, the passion and the conviction. But this time our beloved champion is down, and he won’t get up. Not this time. Not ever again. I am convinced, now more than ever, that Ali was The Greatest.’
Mike Tyson (far left), Lenox Lewis (second left) and Will Smith (far right) all acted as pallbearers for Ali’s funeral, a private ceremony which took place ahead of the memorial service in the evening.
Whoopi Goldberg was among the celebrity attendees of Friday evening’s memorial service, which was also open to the public because his family said he was a ‘man of the people’
Actor Will Smith arrives for Muhammad Ali’s memorial service. He was one of the pallbearers who carried Ali’s casket earlier in the day
Soccer player David Beckham, left, arrives for Muhammad Ali’s memorial service on Friday in Louisville, Kentucky
Actor and former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger, center, arrives for Muhammad Ali’s public funeral on Friday
Basketball Hall of Fame Coach Pat Riley and former football star Ray Lewis greet each other while making their way into the memorial
Hip-hop artist Common makes his way into the memorial service alongside the likes of Whoopi Goldberg (right)
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai (center) arrives for the Muhammad Ali funeral service on Friday and stops to speak with US boxing promoter Don King (far right)
Wife Lonnie, alongside daughters Maryum and Rasheda, also paid emotional tributes to the three-time heavyweight champion of the world, while family friend John Ramsey recalled one of the boxer’s many memorable quotes, saying: ‘He once said, “Serving others is the rent you pay for your place here on earth.”
‘Well your rent is paid in full,’ he added. ‘Your rent is paid in full. And thanks to you, our rent is paid as well.’
The memorial, at the 18,000-capacity KFC Yum! Center in Ali’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, got underway with Hamzah Abdul Malik leading mourners in a recitation of verses from the Quran.
Actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, rapper/actor Common, and former NFL Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis could be seen pulling up to a VIP side entrance at the for the service and were greeted by cheers from onlookers standing about three rows deep.
That was only the beginning of the celeb parade, as producer/director Spike Lee, NBC Today host Matt Lauer, NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown and NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, David Beckham and Spike Lee arrived soon after.
Most exited their limos away from fans and the media, but Abdul-Jabbar did step out and wave to the crowd, unable to hide his 7-foot-2 frame.
The service started with a scripture reading from the Quran and a translation in English before those selected to speak about Ali shared their stories.
Louisville pastor Kevin Cosby said Muhammad Ali loved everyone, whether they lived in the penthouse or the projects. He was among several faith leaders who spoke at the memorial service on Friday in Louisville.
Cosby said Ali infused African-Americans with a ‘sense of somebodiness.’ He said that just as James Brown declared ‘I’m black and I’m proud,’ Ali proclaimed ‘I’m black and I’m pretty.’
‘He dared to affirm the beauty of blackness, the power and the capacity of African Americans, he dared to love America’s unloved race and we love us and we loved him because he loved us. Whether you lived in the slums, whether you came from the penthouse or projects, he loved you,’ Cosby said.
He said the boxing great ‘dared to affirm the power and capacity of African-Americans.’
Rabbi Michael Lerner spoke after Hatch during Muhammad Ali’s memorial service at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky
The daughter of Malcolm X, Attallah Shabazz (left), gave a powerful speech during the service. Senior adviser to President Barack Obama, Valerie Jarrett (right) also spoke on Friday
The boxer’s widow and fourth wife, Lonnie Ali, the delivered a eulogy for her husband and thanked everyone for their touching tributes
A general view of the memorial service for the late Muhammad Ali at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky on Friday
Spike Lee, left, speaks to Former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, right before Muhammad Ali’s memorial service
Former US Senator Orrin Hatch followed Cosby in speaking about Ali during the service and shared that Ali was a ‘dedicated friend.’
He said they first met 28 years ago when the boxing great visited the Utah Republican at his Senate office.
‘We were different in some ways but differences fortified our friendship, it didn’t divide us. So dedicated a friend was Ali, he joined me on the campaign trail,’ Hatch said.
‘Ali didn’t look through the binary lens of Democrats or Republicans so common today, he saw worthy causes and shared humanity. By his willingness to put principles before partisanship, he showed us the path to greatness.
‘His greatness relates to his ability as a boxer, his benevolence as a father and friend. There was something else that made him the Greatest. He pointed us to a greatness beyond ourselves, even Ali. He pointed us to greatness of God.
‘He said: ‘He [God] gave me this condition to remind me I am human. Only He is the Greatest.’
Hatch added that Ali reminded everyone ‘who truly is the Greatest’ and said that he prayed he rest peacefully.
Rabbi Michael Lerner appeared next to speak about Ali at the service and paid tribute to the boxer, while also being very political.
‘We will not tolerate politicians putting down Muslims or blaming Muslims for a few people,’ he said referring to terrorists.
Lerner, who is the editor of a non-profit, Jewish and interfaith magazine, referenced the current coverage given of Israel.
‘One of the reasons that we in Tikkun magazine have called on the US to stand up to part of the Israeli government oppressing Palestinians is that we as Jews recognize that God has created us in God’s image,’ he said.
‘That means the Palestinian people as well as all other people on the planet.’
He added that Ali was different than any other sports hero.
‘Sports heroes come and go. There was something about Ali that was different. He used the recognition to stand up to an immoral war and say, no I won’t go,’ Lerner said.
‘It’s for that reason that tens of millions who don’t care about boxing, care about Ali. He was willing to risk the honour and his fame to speak truth to power.
Spectators cheer after Rabbi Michael Lerner’s speech during Muhammad Ali’s memorial service in Louisville
‘He stood up and was willing to take the risk (of losing his championship) because he was made of that moral integrity. How do we honour Muhammad Ali? It is to be Muhammad Ali. It’s up to us to continue that ability to speak truth to power.’
Native American chief, Sidney Hill, spoke in his language next and was followed by Buddhist monks who chanted and drummed.
Later, Rabbi Joe Rapport of Louisville said Ali was ‘the heart of our city … and that heart beats still.’
The daughter of Malcolm X, Attallah Shabazz, gave a powerful speech in which she shared that ‘having Muhammad Ali in my life somehow sustained my dad’s breath in me – 51 years longer. Until now’.
While speaking, at several points Shabazz appeared as though she was going to cry.
Senior adviser to President Barack Obama, Valerie Jarrett, spoke on behalf of the first family who were unable to attend the service. In her speech, Jarrett praised Ali and noted how influential he was.
‘He was bigger, brighter and more influential than anyone of his era. You couldn’t have made him up. And yes, he was pretty too. He had fans on every city, ghetto in the world,’ Jarrett said.
‘The British invasion took a detour to come to him! It seemed sometimes the Champ was too big for America.’
She added that the boxer was defiant and admitted ‘there were times when he swung a bit wildly and wronged the wrong opponent which he was first to admit’.
Jarrett ended her speech about Ali with an inspiring and powerful statement.
‘Muhammad Ali was America. He will always be America. What a man. What a spirit. God bless the greatness of Ali, God bless his family,’ she said.
The boxer’s widow and fourth wife, Lonnie Ali, then delivered a eulogy for her husband and thanked everyone for their touching tributes.
‘America must never forget that when a cop and an inner city kid talk to each other, miracles can happen,’ she said in reference to how his talent was discovered.
Lonnie Ali, who had been married to the boxer for 30 years, spoke of his power and influence around the world.
‘Rich and powerful were drawn to him but he was drawn to the poor and the forgotten. He fell in love with masses and they fell in love with him,’ she stated.
‘Muhammad was compelled by his faith to help the poor.’
Earlier in the day, mourners in their thousands made the pilgrimage to Louisville and lined the streets along which Muhammad Ali once shadowboxed and dreamed of greatness.
As the 17-car motorcade carrying the coffin of the world’s most famous boxer made its way from his boyhood home and along the boulevard that bears his name they chanted: ‘Ali, Ali’.
Past the museum that stands as a lasting tribute to the legend’s boxing triumphs and up towards the Cave Hill cemetery they bowed their heads and tossed roses on to the roofs of the cortege delivering his body to its final resting place.
Hana Ali, daughter of Muhammad Ali, throws flowers as she rides in her father’s funeral procession while it enters Cave Hill Cemetery
Mourners lined the streets as the 17-car funeral procession for the famed boxer passed through Louisville on Friday
Some touched the three-time world boxing champion’s hearse to say their final goodbyes to the legend
Ali’s nine children, Laila Ali, Rasheda Ali, Hana Ali, Asaad Amin, Maryum Ali, Jamillah Ali, Khaliah Ali, Muhammad Ali Jr. and Miya Ali joined his wife, two of his ex-wives and other family members made up the motorcade that followed the hearse as it came to a 1pm standstill at the cemetery – their gratitude evident as they smiled at the crowds who cheered and clapped as they passed.
It marks the second day of memorial ceremonies for Ali, who died last Friday age 74 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, as yesterday more than 14,000 mourners joined the family for the traditional Muslim prayer service at Kentucky’s Freedom Hall to celebrate the sporting legend’s extraordinary life.
‘We’ve all been dreading the passing of The Champ, but at the same time we knew ultimately it would come,’ Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said.
‘It was selfish for us to think that we could hold on to him forever. Our job now, as a city, is to send him off with the class and dignity and respect that he deserves.’
The faithful traveled from all over the world to pay their respects. Thousands more lined the procession route Friday to wave a final goodbye to the city’s favorite son.
Actor Will Smith and ex-boxers Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis were among the pallbearers who placed Ali’s coffin in the black hearse for the procession that began around 10.35am ET, about 65 minutes after the scheduled start time.
The motorcade started at the funeral home and headed north onto the interstate. It then paused briefly to overlook the Muhammad Ali Center in the heart of downtown.
The cars headed west onto Muhammad Ali Boulevard, passed the Kentucky Center for African-American Heritage and visited his childhood home on Grand Avenue.
Farewell: Muhammad Ali’s 10 pallbearers are pictured above top left to right: Gene Dibble Jr., John Ramsey, Jerry Ellis, Kamawi Ali and Jan Waddell. Pictured bottom left to right: Ibn Ali, Lennox Lewis, Will Smith, John Grady, and Mike Tyson
An attendee holds a ticket for the Memorial Service for the Muhammad Ali Funeral Service in Louisville
The funeral procession for the legendary boxer ended around 1pm ET. His coffin was carried by his 10 pallbearers and put in the back of the hearse at the funeral home prior to the start of the procession
The Greatest had his funeral and memorial service planned for sometime and knew exactly how he wanted his life to be celebrated long before his death. Above Ali’s casket is placed into the hearse ahead of the procession
Pallbearers, including Will Smith, Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson, place Muhammad Ali’s casket in the hearse ahead of the funeral procession in Louisville, Kentucky
The famed fighter’s coffin was draped in an Islamic tapestry prior to it being put inside of the hearse for the procession
Flowers could be seen on the hood and roof of the hearse carrying the coffin of the famed boxer during the procession in Kentucky
It then turned toward his final resting place at the Cave Hill Cemetery where his family and closest friends gathered for a private burial.
At 3pm, thousands will gather at the KFC Yum! Center for a final send-off befitting The Greatest.
The service will feature a eulogy by former President Bill Clinton, a longtime friend, and remarks by comedian Billy Crystal, television journalist Bryant Gumbel and the champ’s wife, Lonnie.
The king of Jordan and president of Turkey were scheduled to attend. But Turkey’s President has cut short his trip to the US and will not attend the funeral of boxer Muhammad Ali, his office said Friday, amid reports of a rift with the ceremony’s organizers.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan had specially flown to Louisville in the southern US state of Kentucky to say farewell to Ali, who the Turkish president is known to have admired hugely as a committed Muslim and civil rights campaigner.
Erdogan on Thursday attended a prayer ceremony for Ali and had been due to attend the funeral on Friday along with several other high profile political leaders.
But the president’s office said that Erdogan left the United States for Turkey late Thursday after attending the prayer ceremony and joining a Ramadan fast-breaking dinner with the US diaspora of Meskhetian Turks who were expelled from their homeland by Stalin in the 1940s.
The Olympian’s widow and fourth wife, Lonnie Ali, appears somber while sporting black sunglasses prior to the start of the funeral procession
People took photos and videos of the procession for Ali, as others waved and tossed flowers at the hearse carrying his coffin
The 19-miles-long procession started at Ali’s boyhood home where he shadowboxed and dreamed of greatness
Funeral procession map shows the 90-minute route that took his remains by his boyhood home, the boulevard that bears his name and the museum that stands as a lasting tribute to his boxing triumphs
Erdogan and King Abdullah II of Jordan were scheduled to speak at the champion boxer’s service on Friday, but was cut due to lack of program space.
Actor Will Smith and ex-boxers Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis are among the pallbearers at the service as well.
Lewis texted a photo, obtained exclusively by Daily Mail Online, to a friend of his earlier today as he and his fellow pallbearers got ready to carry Ali’s body to the waiting hearse at A.D. Porter & Sons funeral home in Louisville.
The friend, professional gambler and philanthropist Robin Hood 702, said Lewis was honored to have been give the role.
He said: ‘Lennox is truly honored to be part of Muhammad Ali’s funeral, he texted me the photo of him and the other pallbearers including Mike Tyson and Will Smith from just before Ali’s body was driven through Louisville.’
The candid moment shows the men smiling as they prepare to pick up the coffin and fulfill the greatest of honors.
Robin Hood says he and Lewis have been friends for a few years after they hung out together in Las Vegas and says he’s a ‘great’ guy.
‘Lennox is one of the good guys, it’s not a surprise to me that he was asked to carry Ali’s coffin, what an honor,’ he said.
Former heavyweight world champion boxer Lewis spoke about his friendship with Ali ahead of his duties as pallbearer today.
Ali and Lewis were close – with the late boxer often advising Lennox on his career.
Valerie Jarrett, a senior White House adviser, will read a letter Obama wrote to Ali’s family at the service.
In a video message, Obama said: ‘This week we lost an icon. A person who for African Americans, I think, liberated their minds in recognizing that they could be proud of who they were.’
The boxer’s youngest son, Asaad Ali, 25, shared his recollections and his final moments with his father on the TODAY show Friday with Matt Lauer.
‘What I can say about that room (before Ali died), it was just a really emotional, powerful, spiritual moment that we all shared with him’, Asaad said.
‘I was able to say my last few words that I really wanted to say to him for a while now’.
Asaad, who was born roughly a decade after his father left the boxing ring, is the youngest of Ali’s nine children.
He shared how his famed father would often pick up people while driving home on the street and taken them back home to do magic tricks.
‘We could be driving down the street and there’d be somebody on the road — in the middle of the road,’ Asaad said.
‘And he’d pick ’em up and we’d put ’em in the car and he’d take ’em home to do magic tricks. My mom would be furious at him’.
In addition, he also shared how Ali would reveal glimpses of the prowess and agility that made him the legendary boxer, even while suffering from Parkinson’s disease at age 60.
‘We were sitting chair to chair next to each other and there was a lamp and a table in between us. There was a fly, just wandering around. He just snatched it outta nowhere. He just looked at me at said, ‘I still got it”.
The youngest son of the legend shared that his father was tough in how he dealt with the effects of the disease.
People pose for photos outside the childhood home of the late boxing champion Muhammad Ali in Louisville, Kentucky, ahead of his funeral and memorial services today
‘He was a man that never complained, never showed weakness,’ Asaad Ali, is an assistant baseball coach at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa, said.
‘You never could never tell what days were bad with Parkinson’s, what days were good. Because he’s that kind of person. He’s tough, he’s strong.’
The memorial for the fighter is expected to draw 15,000 people and will bookend a week-long series of planned services and spontaneous celebrations.
The Ali Center stopped charging people for admission. A tour company began impromptu tours of Ali’s path through the city.
Businesses printed his quotes across their billboards. City buses flashed ‘Ali – The Greatest’ in orange lights across their marquees.
A downtown bridge said it would be lit the rest of the week in red and gold: red for his gloves and gold for his medal.
Years ago, the champ signed off on how he wished to say goodbye to the world. One of his mandates was that ordinary fans attend, not just VIPs.
Thousands of free tickets were snatched up within an hour, many fans waiting hours for the chance to witness history.
‘Everybody feels a sense of loss with Ali’s passing,’ said Mustafa Abdush-Shakur, who traveled from Connecticut to pay tribute to him. ‘But there’s no need to be sad for him. We’re all going to make that trip.’
Worshipers and well-wishers take photographs as the casket with the body of the late boxing champion Muhammad Ali is brought for his Jenazah, an Islamic funeral prayer, in Louisville, Kentucky, on Thursday
Muhammad Ali’s second wife Khalilah Camacho-Ali (left), his fourth wife Lonnie Ali (center), and daughter Laila Ali (right), holding a grandchild, attend the Islamic prayer service at the Kentucky Exposition Center on Thursday
‘Ali was the people’s champion, and champion he did the cause of his people,’ Jackson said.
He added that Ali ‘did more to normalize Islam in this country than perhaps any other Muslim in the history of the United States,’ exceeding the achievements of scholars and clerics because he demonstrated the religion’s generosity and power.
He also said that Ali put the question of whether you can be a Muslim and a proud American to rest.
‘Indeed, he KO’d that question,’ Jackson said.
A fellow Muslim who shares the boxing great’s name traveled from Bangladesh. Mohammad Ali arrived with no hotel reservation, just a belief that this pilgrimage was important to honor the global icon in a traditional Islamic service.
The Ali from Bangladesh said he met the boxer in the early 1970s and they struck up a friendship based on their shared name. The Champ visited his home in 1978 and always joked he was his twin brother, he said.
Ali insisted the service be open to all. Mourners began trickling in shortly after the doors opened at 9am.
It appeared as though many members of the boxer’s immediate family attended the Jenazah, including his two surviving ex-wives as Ali was married four times and was a serial adulterer.
His second wife, Khalilah Camacho-Ali, stood next to his fourth wife, Lonnie Ali, during the Muslim service. Ali and Khalilah Camacho-Ali, who was formerly named Belinda Boyd, were married in 1967 when she was just 17 years old.
She converted to Islam and the couple had four children together, Maryum, Rasheda, Jamilah and Muhammad Ali Jr.
Ali started having an affair with statuesque model Veronica Porche-Ali towards the end of his second marriage.
Veronica Porche-Ali became pregnant with the boxer’s daughter, Hana Ali, and his marriage to his second wife ended in divorce in 1977.
He then married Veronica Porche-Ali that same year and they went on to have their second daughter, Laila Ali.
They eventually divorced in 1986 and Ali married Lonnie Ali that same year. They did not have any biological children together, but adopted a son together.
Imam Nadim Ali delivers the closing remarks during an interfaith memorial service for Muhammad Ali at the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam on Thursday in Atlanta, Georgia
A traditional Muslim Jenazah service was held on Thursday and lasted a little over an hour as Muslims traveled from all over the world to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the Kentucky arena for a final tribute to Ali
Attendees at his Muslim service on Thursday were young and old; black, white and Arabic. Some wore traditional Islamic garb, others blue jeans or business suits.
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