Muhammad Ali: RIP

A few months ago I gave up doing these little memorial posts, they were becoming all too regular and I would hate to be trite.  Then I woke up to the news that one of my true all-time heroes had died. So here I am once more.

Ali 3

I don’t like boxing.  In 2016 it’s an ugly, fractured, mostly very unclassy affair.  I don’t like all the trash talking, the hype and the tragedies that are becoming all too common in the sport. I don’t like boxing but I loved Ali.  He brought a grace, a fiercely instinctive intelligence and a larger than life swagger to his sport.  When you look at footage of him and his contemporaries now they transcend boxing, they were bigger than it.  Ali always looked amazing too in the ring, or out of it.  Brutal though his sport can be, Ali occasionally took it into the realms of the sublime.

When I was growing up Ali was more of a celebrity and a pop star than a sportsman, in fact you can make a decent claim that he was the most famous man in the world for most of his adult life.  His story fascinated me like no other, shot through as it was with a unique historical significance, the struggle for black civil rights and his conscientious objection to fighting in Vietnam.  The latter continually fascinates me, here is a champion who gave up four years at his absolute prime on principle, at a time when boxers made a shadow of what they do now and his line, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong—no Viet Cong ever called me Nigger” thrills me still.  I could not imagine any other sportsman or woman taking such a stance.  Ali did.

That's how cool the man was
That’s how cool the man was

The Rumble in the Jungle, Ali’s 1974 fight against George Foreman in Zaire is a major obsession of mine, thanks to the brilliant Norman Mailer book The Fight and the film When We Were Kings, the setting, the music, the hugely improbable outcome, it has the story arc of a fictional event rather than any of the dowdy, grinding trappings of real life.  As does Ali’s life if you ignore the painful fact of his fighting on far too long for his own health.

But I prefer to think of him as the principled, funny firebrand who once claimed ‘I’m so mean I make medicine sick!’.  A great sportsman, a great and righteous man, he was the greatest as far as I am concerned.

Ali 2

Musically I never got around to getting his Muhammad Ali Fights Mr Tooth Decay LP, my loss I’m sure.

665 Down (still).

PS – all pictures pilfered from the internet.

PPS – Totally recommend Thomas Hauser’s magnificent Ali biography.





20 thoughts on “Muhammad Ali: RIP

  1. Couldn’t agree more with your piece. I am (was much more) a boxing fan, because of Ali. As a kid I was enthralled by his humour and his smile. As an adult, by his actual boxing skill and later by his moral stance on the Vietnam war. I met him once, in the early eighties, in a hotel lift. I spoke to him, but sadly went away thinking that his slurred speech was because he was drunk. I later found out it was caused by the onset of the illness that killed him. Ali was polite and answered my dumb questions – well it’s not often you get in a lift and meet a hero. Perhaps we should have a few good questions prepared for those special moments?
    It would help. Like the time I met Debbie Harry in Kensington market. I was walking head down (with a hangover) to the shoe stall that I liked, when I literally bumped into the woman of my dreams – I smacked right into her and trod on her toe. I looked up to see a much older, heavier Debbie, and was totally shocked (by both her real life appearance and the fact that she’d stepped out of my record sleeve and was limping before me).
    And what did I say?
    “Sorry. I’m just going to buy some shoes.”

    1. Wow! I’d love to have shoulder-barged Debbie Harry, that’s a damn good claim to fame.

      Ali and his contemporaries were Giants, a lot more dignity in the sport back then too.

      1. I don’t bother watching the heavy-weight division nowadays. Or the others, really. Just the amateur level. It’s a bit like football – ‘too much money’ is ruining a working class pursuit. (Or at least changing it beyond recognition)

  2. Nice piece, Joe. I remember when I first saw some Ali footage … it was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Unlike anything I’ve seen since, too. Not that I’m the biggest boxing fan, but I could watch Ali all day …

    There are people that you will just never see the likes of again. A real hero. In every sense.

  3. Nice write up! He was great talker! When Ali spoke you listened! That top pic of him (fist up) is classic! That pic alone Sez more than a 1000 words…

  4. This is a sad day. I agree, boxing now is a shadow (shadowboxing?) of what it once was. Your tribute is beautifully done.

    Is it weird to say that I’ve had a picture of him in my bathroom for years? It’s the one of him over Liston in the first round first minute. That picture is good inspiration to see in the mornings, starting the day.

    R.I.P. Ali.

  5. Sad that you had to write this (he was only 74, after all) but beautifully done Joe.

    Today I posted (on that FB thing) two LPs in tribute to 3 June deaths. Muhammad Ali and Dave Swarbrick (the Richard Thompson of the British Folk Fiddle). Sheesh.

    1. Thanks a lot Brice. It’s not too unexpected but such sad news nonetheless.

      As part of a lengthy job interview process once I had to do a 5-minute presentation on someone I admired – I chose Ali and actually enjoyed the presentation. Didn’t get the job.

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