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Ali Service Is Celebration of Life, Nonviolence, Humanitarianism


Widow Lonnie Ali and former President Bill Clinton were among many speakers eulogizing boxing legend Muhammad Ali at an arena in Louisville, Kentucky, on Friday as some 15,000 mourners paid their respects.

The service took place after Ali's body had been driven through the streets of his hometown where fans packed the sidewalks to say a joyful and tearful goodbye.

Lonnie Ali spoke of her husband's love of Islam and its teachings of nonviolence. She said he had wanted his memorial service to be used to promote his ideals.

Lonnie Ali, widow of Muhammad Ali, speaks during his memorial service in Louisville, Ky., June 10, 2016.

Lonnie Ali, widow of Muhammad Ali, speaks during his memorial service in Louisville, Ky., June 10, 2016.

"He wanted us to remind people who are suffering that he had seen the face of injustice ... but he never became embittered enough to quit or engage in violence," she said.

Drawn to the 'forgotten'

She spoke of his love of travel, and of everyday people. "As he moved with ease around the world, the rich and powerful were drawn to him, but he was drawn to the poor and forgotten," she said.

Comedian Billy Crystal said Ali "was funny. He was beautiful. He was the most perfect athlete you ever saw. And those were his own words."

Turning serious, Crystal told anecdotes about the man he called "my big brother," referring to the long friendship between the two men despite differences in their backgrounds and professions.

Comedian Billy Crystal delivers a eulogy during Muhammad Ali's memorial service in Louisville, Ky., June 10, 2016.

Comedian Billy Crystal delivers a eulogy during Muhammad Ali's memorial service in Louisville, Ky., June 10, 2016.

Speaking of Ali's humanitarian and civil rights work, Crystal said, "He was a tremendous bolt of lighting, created by Mother Nature out of thin air. ... At the moment of impact it lights up everything around it, so you can see everything clearly.”

From polarizing to beloved

Broadcaster Bryant Gumbel commented, "What does it say of a man that he can go from being one of the nation's most polarizing figures to one of its most beloved, and do so without changing his nature?"

He went on to say Ali had led battles "in support of his race, in defense of his generation ... and, ultimately, in spite of his disease." He also called Ali a champion who represented "the best of Islam, to offset the hatred that comes with fear."

Clinton mused on Ali's origins and his transformation into a "universal soldier for our common humanity."

Former President Bill Clinton delivers a eulogy during Muhammad Ali's memorial service in Louisville, Ky., June 10, 2016.

Former President Bill Clinton delivers a eulogy during Muhammad Ali's memorial service in Louisville, Ky., June 10, 2016.

The former president spoke of how hard Ali fought the Parkinson's disease that plagued him for decades before his death last week at age 74. But he also praised Ali's legacy.

"My enduring image of him is like a little reel in three shots," Clinton said. "The boxer I thrilled to as a boy, the man I watched take the last steps to light the Olympic flame when I was president ... and then this — the children whose lives he touched; the young people he inspired. That’s the most important thing of all."

Dr. Kevin Cosby, senior pastor at St. Stephen Church, speaks during Muhammad Ali's memorial service in Louisville, Ky., June 10, 2016.

Dr. Kevin Cosby, senior pastor at St. Stephen Church, speaks during Muhammad Ali's memorial service in Louisville, Ky., June 10, 2016.

A sense of 'somebodiness'

Louisville Pastor Kevin Cosby spoke of Ali in the same breath as civil rights legend Rosa Parks and barrier-breaking athletes Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens, all African-Americans who defied societal norms to try to break the color barrier between black and white Americans.

"Before James Brown said, 'I'm black and I'm proud,' Muhammad Ali said, 'I'm black and I'm pretty,' " Cosby said, adding that, in the time that Ali said it, " 'blacks' and 'pretty' were an oxymoron." He said Ali "dared to affirm the power and capacity of African-Americans," and gave them a "sense of somebodiness."

WATCH: Boxing Promoter Don King at Muhammad Ali Memorial Service

Rabbi Michael Lerner, a political activist, spoke of Ali's decision to give up his boxing title rather than be drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. "Ali stood up to immoral war, risked fame to speak truth to power," he said.

Other guests at the service included many members of Ali's family, Hollywood director Spike Lee, football legend Jim Brown, basketball's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and actress and comedian Whoopi Goldberg.

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