The family of the greatest boxer who was once the most famous face on earth said he died of septic shock surrounded by his family at his hospital bedside.
The details came as Ali's family revealed plans for a Friday funeral in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, a day long affair that will include a procession through the streets where the 74-year-old world champion grew up and learned to box. His body is expected
to be returned to the city within two days.
to be returned to the city within two days.
The service will include eulogies from former President Bill Clinton, journalist Bryant Gumbel and comedian Billy Crystal. He'll be buried in a local cemetery with only family watching.
In preparation, Louisville lowered flags in mourning on Saturday as it looked toward Ali's final homecoming.
|Ali knocks down Sonny Liston.|
I’m not the greatest. I’m the double greatest. Not only do I knock ‘em out, I pick the round. I’m the boldest, the prettiest, the most superior, most scientific, most skillfullest fighter in the ring today.”
It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.”
He even penned a poem before taking on Sonny Liston in 1964:
...now Clay swings with a right, what a beautiful swing
And raises the bear straight out of the ring;
Liston is rising and the ref wears a frown
For he can’t start counting ‘til Liston comes down;
Now Liston disappears from view, the crowd is getting frantic
But our radar stations have picked him up somewhere over the Atlantic;
Who would have thought when they came to the fight
That they’d witness the launching of a human satellite?
Yes the crowd did not dream when they laid down their money
That they would see a total eclipse of the Sonny.”
When I’m gone, boxing will be nothing again. The fans with the cigars and the hats turned down’ll be there, but no more housewives and little men in the street and foreign presidents. It’s goin’ to be back to the fighter who comes to town, smells a flower, visits a hospital, blows a horn and says he’s in shape. Old hat. I was the onliest boxer in history people asked questions like a senator.”
Sometimes there was even a touch of humility:
There are no pleasures in a fight, but some of my fights have been a pleasure to win.”
Float like a butterfly sting like a bee – his hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see.”
I done something new for this fight. I wrestled with an alligator. I tussled with a whale. I handcuffed lightning, I thrown thunder in jail. Only last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick. I’m so mean I make medicine sick.”Champions aren’t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them: a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”
I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and got into bed before the room was dark.”
"It will be a killer and a chiller and a thriller, when I get the gorilla in Manila.”
I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong”
Of the US government’s attempts to jail him for draft-dodging, he said:
They did what they thought was right, and I did what I thought was right.”
Many of his comments referred explicitly to race and the treatment of black people in the US:
I know I got it made while the masses of black people are catchin’ hell, but as long as they ain’t free, I ain’t free.”
Boxing is a lot of white men watching two black men beat each other up.”
I may not talk perfect white talk-type English, but I give you wisdom.”
Name change, 1964
Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it and I don’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name – it means beloved of God, and I insist people use it when people speak to me and of me.”
And after being convicted of draft-dodging in 1970, in one of his most famous lines, he said:
I am America. I am the part you won’t recognise. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky, my name not yours. My religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.”
Later in life
He maintained his sharp tongue despite the toll that boxing had taken on his body:
People say I talk so slow today. That’s no surprise. I calculated I’ve taken 29,000 punches. But I earned $57m and I saved half of it. So I took a few hard knocks. Do you know how many black men are killed every year by guns and knives without a penny to their names? I may talk slow, but my mind is OK.”
What I suffered physically was worth what I’ve accomplished in life. A man who is not courageous enough to take risks will never accomplish anything in life.”
A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”
I’m not afraid of dying. I have faith; I do everything I can to live my life right; and I believe that dying will bring me closer to God.”
Live every day like it’s your last, because someday you’re going to be right.”
Takes up boxing after his bike is stolen (1954)
If it wasn’t for the lure of free food, Muhammad Ali may never have boxed. As the 12-year-old Cassius Clay he pedalled on his red and white Schwinn bike to the Louisville Home Show, an exhibition for black businesses, for the free popcorn, hot dogs and candy. But when he left, his bike was gone. A stranger suggested he speak to a policeman, Joe Martin, at the nearby Columbia gym. As Ali later related in his autobiography, The Greatest: “I ran downstairs crying but the sights and sounds and smell of boxing excited me so much that I almost forgot about the bike.” As Clay left, Martin tapped him on the shoulder. “By the way, we got boxing every night, Monday through Friday, from six to eight. Here’s an application in case you want to join.”
Wins his first bout – and is hailed a future world champion (1954)
Clay was no out-of-the blocks natural. The first time he stepped into the ring, against an older fighter, he flailed wildly and within a minute his nose was bloodied and he had to be pulled out. As Martin put it, he “didn’t know a left hook from a kick in the ass”. But six weeks later the 6st 9lb Clay won his first bout by split-decision against another novice, Ronny O’Keefe, on Martin’s TV show Tomorrow’s Champions, which was shown all over Kentucky. Afterwards his father Cassius Clay Snr proclaimed: “My son is going to be another Joe Louis. The World Heavyweight Champion, Cassius Clay!”
Heavyweight Gold at the Rome Olympics (1960)
Clay nearly didn’t travel to the Olympics because he was so afraid of flying, and he even bought a parachute from an army surplus store to wear on the plane. After comfortable victories in his opening three bouts, Clay found the 1956 bronze medallist Zbigniew Pietrzykowski harder to fathom in the final, struggling with his opponent’s southpaw stance before winning a unanimous verdict. Later, in his autobiography, he claimed to have thrown his gold medal into the Ohio River, saying: “A few minutes earlier I had fought a man almost to death because he had wanted to take it from me … now I had thrown it in the river. And I felt no pain and regret. Only relief, and a new strength.” It was fiction. The truth was more mundane: he lost the medal.
Clay meets the wrestler Gorgeous George (1961)
After turning professional, Clay won six fights in six months. Then, on a Las Vegas radio show to promote his seventh contest, he met the wrestler ‘Gorgeous’ George Wagner, whose promotional skills got audiences coming to watch. As Ali later told his biographer Thomas Hauser: “[George] started shouting: ‘If this bum beats me I’ll crawl across the ring and cut off my hair, but it’s not gonna happen because I’m the greatest fighter in the world.’ And all the time, I was saying to myself: ‘Man. I want to see this fight’ And the whole place was sold out when Gorgeous George wrestled … including me … and that’s when I decided if I talked more, there was no telling how much people would pay to see me.”
Clay becomes a boxing Nostradamus (1962)
Ali soon started correctly predicting the round of victory – there was a run of seven times out of eight where he got it right – and when, in February 1962, he stopped Don Warner in four rather than the five forecast, he claimed he had finished the fight early because Warner had not shaken hands. Such promotional skills were paying off. When the boxing writer AJ Liebling arrived at Madison Square Garden 30 minutes before the first preliminary bout to Clay’s fight with Doug Jones he was shocked to find sold out signs and people being turned away.
Shows his heart against Henry Cooper (1963)
Clay sauntered into Wembley like a monarch, with a gown emblazoned with ‘Cassius the Great’ and a crown encrusted with imitation diamonds. And, having predicted Cooper would fall in five, Ali preferred slow death by a thousand cuts. But with five seconds remaining of the fourth round, Cooper swung a left hook – Henry’s Hammer – that smashed Clay flush. Clay was down and up as the bell sounded. But he was still groggy as Angelo Dundee, his trainer, alerted the referee to a tear in his glove and a cornerman poured ice over Clay’s lower extremities. No spare gloves were available, but the delay gave Ali had a few extra seconds to recover. A brutal attack ripped Cooper’s face to shreds and the fight stopped in the fifth – as forecast.
Earns himself a fight with Sonny Liston (1964)
Clay was fast, handsome and quick-tongued but he was also brave. Just before the second Sonny Liston v Floyd Patterson fight in 1963, Clay followed Liston to Vegas and, after watching him lose at craps, shouted to him: “Look at that big ugly bear, he can’t do anything right.” The promoter Harold Conrad told Thomas Hauser what happened next: “So Liston throws the dice down, walks over to Clay, and says: ‘Listen here you nigger faggot. If you don’t get out of here in 10 seconds I’m gonna pull that big tongue out of your mouth and stick it up your ass’.” Clay was scared. He walked. But later he drove to Liston’s house in Denver to holler at him from his driveway. Shortly afterwards the fight was signed. Ali had his world title shot.
“I shook up the world” – Clay wins world heavyweight title (1964)
Liston was a boxing dementor, those soulless eyes draining hope from opponents’ before his fists stole their consciousness. In 36 fights he had lost just once – and even then, after having his jaw broken, he didn’t quit. At the weigh-in, Clay’s pulse was double his normal rate. People thought he was scared. But as he explained to his doctor Ferdie Pacheco he had a plan: “Liston is scared of no man, but he is scared of a nut because he doesn’t know what I am going to do.” He soon found out. Clay was slicker and sharper and, after surviving a torrid fifth when some oil of wintergreen on Liston’s gloves set his eyes on fire, forced his opponent to quit at the end of the sixth. Afterwards Clay told reporters he had “shook up the world … I am the greatest! … I am the prettiest thing that ever lived!” He was 22.
Cassius Clay becomes Muhammad Ali (1964)
After the earthquake, the aftershock. Clay’s interest in the Black Muslims began in 1959 when he saw a man in Louisville selling newspapers shouting: “Muhammad speaks! Read it!” But it was only in March 1961 that he visited a temple and became deeply immersed in the religion. As Pacheco put it: “Until Ali came into camp the Black Muslims were considered a fringe lunatic group … [but] Ali understood you did not fuck with the Muslims. He liked their strength.” Clay held off announcing his conversion because he didn’t want to jeopardise his fight with Liston. But days beforehand his angry father, Cassius Clay Snr (who claimed the Black Muslims had threatened to kill him) confirmed that his son – later to be Cassius X, then Muhammad Ali – had indeed joined the Nation of Islam.
Ali shows his nasty side (1965 and 1967)
After knocking out Liston in the first round of their rematch – a robust discussion continues over whether Liston, a mob fighter, took a dive – Ali faced Patterson, who had told Sports Illustrated: “The image of a Black Muslim as the world heavyweight champion disgraces the sport and nation.” Ali responded, first with his tongue – Patterson was “nothing but an Uncle Tom Negro” - and then by torturing him for 12 rounds. In 1967, when Ali fought Ernie Terrell – who had referred to him Cassius Clay – he was just as vicious, demanding “What’s my name?” when he hit him on the way to a decision. The writer Jimmy Cannon claimed: “It was a bad fight, nasty with the evil of religious fanaticism. This wasn’t an athletic contest. It was a kind of lynching.”
The fight of the century.
By the time Ali came out of exile the public’s mood had shifted. As the boxing historian Jim Jacobs put it: “The exile … showed people that Ali was sincere. It made him an underdog. He became a symbol to people who had never been interested in boxing.” But it had eroded his skills. At Madison Square Garden, Ali and the new champion Joe Frazier threw everything at each other. But Ali was not quite as elusive or sharp, and increasingly Frazier caught up with him, before a left hook putting Ali on his pants in 15th round. It was the moment, as Norman Mailer put it, that Ali was “dumped into 50,000 newspaper photographs … singing to the siren in the mistiest fogs of Queer Street.” He got up but lost a unanimous decision.
Wins back title in The Rumble in the Jungle (1974)
Even Ali’s extended family of hangers-on didn’t expect him beat George Foreman. Sensing the mood in his dressing room he asked: “What’s wrong around here? Everybody scared? Scared? A little thing like this? This is like another day in the gym.” Foreman had destroyed Frazier in two rounds, and set out to dismantle the 32-year-old Ali in much the same way. But Ali sat back on the slack ropes – the famous ‘rope-a-dope’ – inviting Foreman to expend his energy before picking him off. By the sixth Foreman was exhausted with, as Mailer put it, “lumps and swellings all over his face, his skin equal to tar that has baked in the sun.” With 20 seconds remaining of the eighth, Ali unfurled a chain of punches and Foreman twirled and flopped and fell. On commentary David Frost announced: “The great man has done it! This is the most joyous scene ever seen in the history of boxing.
Thrilla in Manilla (1975)
Before their first fight, Ali had called Frazier “The wrong kind of Negro. He’s not like me, ‘cause he’s the Uncle Tom. He works for the enemy.” Before their third fight, he was just as spiteful, calling Frazier “a dumb ugly gorilla”. The fight, held in the broiling 10am heat, was – depending on your view – either a brutal classic or, given what became of both men later, painful to watch as they slugged each other to a standstill. Ali was on top early, Frazier rallied but with his eye closed, he took a beating in the 13th. At the end of the 14th, Frazier’s trainer Eddie Futch stopped the fight, telling him: “No one will forget what you did here today”. Ali later claimed that this was the closest to dying he had ever been.
Ali regains Title against Leon Spinks 1978.
By now Ali was 36, but in fighting years he was even older. In one of the more unmotivated performances of his career, he had lost his title to Leon Spinks, a seven-fight novice. But a few months later he was a little less plodding as he won the rematch to become the first man to hold the heavyweight belt for a third time. Afterwards Ali promised he would retire, adding: “I suffered and sacrificed more than I ever did. There’s nothing left for me to gain by fighting.”