No athlete has ever epitomized independence and embodied greatness the way Muhammad Ali did. Never a pacifist, the always polarizing and enigmatic Ali lived his life unapologetically. His boxing career began at age 12, when he was young Cassius Clay; continued through 1964 when he converted to Islam and changed his name at age 22 to Muhammad Ali; and his legacy of being “The Greatest” lived on long after his retirement from the sport in 1981.
Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1984 at the age of 42. That same year at a conference in Houston, TX, he told reporters, “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.” An Ali family spokesperson confirmed that the champ passed away from respiratory complications in a Phoenix, AZ hospital on Friday, June 3, 2016. In a year already plagued by several high profile celebrity deaths, the sport and entertainment community has lost yet another bright spot in Muhammad Ali.
While much of the world remembers Ali for being a boxing titan and activist, he also made his mark in the realm of film and comics. In 1977, he starred in The Greatest, a biopic of his life. The film begins with Ali winning his gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics, and ends after one of the most famous boxing matches in history, “The Rumble in the Jungle,” where he defeated George Foreman and won the heavyweight title back. The film debuted to mediocre reviews, but that wasn’t the end for Ali’s entertainment career.
Ali made a cameo appearance in a 1962 film called Requiem for a Heavyweight; released a spoken word album titled I Am the Greatest in 1964; appeared in Black Rodeo, a documentary, released in 1972; made his Broadway debut in Buck White in 1969; had an acting role in the 1978 feature film Freedom Road; guest starred on an episode of Diff’rent Strokes in 1979; and was the subject of his own documentary, When We Were Kings, which won an Oscar for best documentary in 1996.
Ever one to push boundaries, Ali even made it to the pages of DC Comics in a 72-page one shot simply titled Superman vs. Muhammad Ali. Also, let’s not forget Ali, the film starring Will Smith that looks at the greatest highs and lowest lows of Ali’s illustrious life. Perhaps the most Hollywood moment of all is when Muhammad Ali received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. However, in a true class of his own, his star is mounted on a wall, the only star to be mounted as such, because he didn’t want people to walk all over his name.
“I am the greatest,” he proudly declared. “I said that even before I knew I was.” That attitude, that bravado is what what made Ali the greatest. He was the king of trash talk, and without Ali, sport would not have the landscape it has today.
“I don’t have to be who you want me to be; I’m free to be who I want.”
Muhammad Ali is survived by his wife, his seven daughters and two sons.
R.I.P. Muhammad Ali: January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016
Source: The New York Times
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