Muhammad Ali, who died June 3 after a more than 30-year battle with Parkinson's disease, was a mountain of a man.
Heavyweight boxing champion. Humanitarian. Icon to millions. Unabashed self-promoter. Philanthropist. Those are just a few of the ways used to describe the man who reverently called himself “the greatest of all time” – and he believed every word of it.
Muhammad Ali was also known for leaving behind his birth name, Cassius Marcellus Clay, in order to become a Black Muslim in 1964. He also publicly defied the government in 1967 when he refused induction into the U.S. Army due to his religious convictions. The latter decision lead to the revocation of his heavyweight title and 3-year ban from boxing during the height of his career.
No matter what you thought about Ali and the controversies he stirred up, Ali was undeniably a man of the people.
Sometimes lost in all the chaos that was Ali’s life was his impact on ordinary people. No matter your station in life, religion, race or ethnicity, Ali always cast a friendly, positive and inspirational eye.
Notorious are the stories where Ali would take the time to engage fans during his travels at airports, hotels, events, and appearances. He would stop and exchange good-hearted banter, sign autographs or just kid around. That’s what Ali seemed to like best.
Ali Was a Powerful Symbol for Peace
These six core principles guided his life, as displayed at the Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville, Ky.:
- Confidence: Belief in oneself, one’s abilities, and one’s future.
- Conviction: A firm belief that gives one the courage to stand behind that belief, despite pressure to do otherwise.
- Dedication: The act of devoting all of one’s energy, effort, and abilities to a certain task.
- Giving: To present voluntarily without expecting something in return.
- Respect: Esteem for, or a sense of the worth or excellence of, oneself and others.
- Spirituality: A sense of awe, reverence, and inner peace inspired by a connection to all of creation and/or that which is greater than oneself.
Ali has left a legacy of inspiration. He cared deeply about human rights, and his landscape was a global one. He is often viewed as one of the most well-known and recognizable figures in the world.
His legacy will be filled with accolades, honors, and high praises for the work he did. He stood out among athletes because he shed light on greater societal issues, particularly in the developing world.
His 1974 heavyweight title fight in Kinshasa, Zaire, the seismic “Rumble in the Jungle” against then-champion George Foreman, was much more than a prize fight; it was a symbolic uplifting of the African nation from dictatorial leaders. But Ali didn’t stop there. Through boxing and humanitarian efforts he planned to create as much positive change as possible.
For instance, Ali was instrumental in his later years by helping to deliver medical supplies to an impoverished and isolated nation of Cuba. He was also at the forefront of other international efforts to provide free meals to downtrodden people in developing nations suffering from hunger. Even lesser known was that during the first Gulf War, Ali helped win the release of 15 U.S. hostages from Iraq.
Ali received many accolades and awards for his efforts in promoting global peace and harmony. The United Nations named him a Messenger of Peace, and he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. Amnesty International bestowed on him a Lifetime Achievement Award, and he was a recipient of the National Constitution Center's Liberty Medal.
In the wake of his affliction with Parkinson’s and the terrible toll it took on him, Ali stood tall in raising money to fight the disease. In Phoenix, where he lived the latter part of his life, he would host an annual Celebrity Fight Night under Athletes for Hope, an organization he helped form in order to create awareness of Parkinson’s and support research for a cure.
In his memory, the Muhammad Ali Center annually hosts the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards each September in Louisville as a means for publicly celebrating the greatness of people across the world.
Clearly, Muhammad Ali, the Greatest, was a man who put his stamp on the world for the betterment of us all. He truly left behind a greater place, and as he’s advised many times, “Don’t count the days; make the days count.”