LOUISVILLE – Former President Bill Clinton, Hollywood actor Will Smith and former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis are among the thousands of dignitaries, elected officials and A-list celebrities expected here June 10 as thousands gather to pay final respects to boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who died June 3 from complications from Parkinson’s disease. Ali was 74.
Clinton, sports broadcaster Bryant Gumbel and actor Billy Crystal, a longtime friend of Ali’s, will deliver eulogies during a memorial service that begins at 2 p.m. Eastern Time.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and King Abdullah II of Jordan also will speak during the service, according to longtime Ali spokesman Bob Gunnell. Smith and Lewis will be two of the eight pallbearers.
A jenazah – a Muslim funeral prayer service – also is planned for noon June 9 at Freedom Hall on the University of Louisville campus.
Both services will be open to the public and tickets for both were distributed June 7 and 8 on a first-come basis. Tickets that had been distributed free of charge quickly appeared for sale on websites such as Craig’s List.
Ali, who went from the streets of Louisville, Kentucky, to being one of the most recognized people in the world, died in a Phoenix, Arizona hospital with family members at his bedside.
Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable President Earl Ofari Hutchinson said Ali’s social and political impact on America cannot be understated.
“Ali will be remembered for his greatness in the ring, but he must be remembered for his even more pronounced greatness outside the ring,” Hutchinson said. “Ali spent much time in Los Angeles, even lived in the city for a time, and interacted with many schools and organizations and residents in the city.
Hutchinson and other civil rights activists called on Mayor Eric Garcetti and the L.A. City Council to declare an L.A. Muhammad Ali Tribute Day. The day would be a day to pay tribute to the towering contribution of Ali to the cause of racial and social justice in L.A. and the nation.
“His mission was always one of furthering the cause of social and racial justice,” Hutchinson said. “A day in his honor is a way to show our deep appreciation for his life and work.”
Local activist Najee Ali agreed, calling Ali “one of the greatest and most influential men in history.”
“Muhammad Ali wasn’t just the greatest boxer in history, he was a humanitarian, activist and a warrior for social justice who had the courage and conviction to stand up for his religious beliefs,” said Najee Ali, director of Project Islamic HOPE.
Members of the local American Muslim community paid tribute to Ali on June 4, with a special prayer and candlelight vigil at the Bilal Islamic Center, a mosque that Ali helped build.
Also on June 4, a floral wreath was placed next to Ali’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star. Ali received the star in 2002 for live theater in recognition of his famous flair and poetry that boosted the popularity of boxing. The star was unveiled in connection with a CBS special honoring Ali’s 60th birthday.
Of the 2,582 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Ali’s is the only one above ground. It is on an exterior wall of the Hollywood & Highland complex.
“I don’t want my name on the ground, [and] people walking on my name,” Ali said at his Walk of Fame ceremony.
Ali came to prominence in 1960 when he won a gold medal at the Rome Olympics, fighting under his birth name, Cassius Clay.
“As Olympians, our role is to inspire others to achieve their dreams, and no person has ever lived that role more than Muhammad Ali,” said four-time gold medal-winning swimmer Janet Evans, the vice chair and director of athlete relations of LA 2024, the group seeking to bring the 2024 Olympics to Los Angeles.
Evans called passing the Olympic torch to Ali to light the cauldron at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics “the defining moment of my career and a memory I will treasure forever, as much as any of the medals I won.”
Ali turned professional in 1960. The 13th fight of his professional career – a career in which he won the heavyweight championship three times – was at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena where he earned a fourth-round technical knockout over George Logan on April 23, 1962.
Ali fought three more times in the Los Angeles area, the final time on Sept. 10, 1973, when he won a 12-round split decision over Ken Norton at the Forum, avenging the second defeat of his professional career.
Ali lived in Los Angeles during parts of the 1970s and 1980s.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said on Twitter: “We have lost a legend who proved the human spirit knows no bounds. Muhammad Ali you will never be forgotten.”
Fighting as Cassius Clay, Ali first won the heavyweight championship on Feb. 25, 1964, when the heavily favored Sonny Liston did not answer the bell to start the seventh round at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
After the fight, he dropped what he called his “slave name” becoming Muhammad Ali and disclosing he became a member of the Nation of Islam.
Ali angered many Americans in 1967 by refusing induction into the U.S. Army, citing his religious beliefs. His boxing license was suspended, his title was taken and he was convicted of draft evasion. The Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 1971.
Ali regained the title in 1974 with an eighth-round knockout of the previously undefeated and heavily favored George Foreman in a bout in Zaire known as the “Rumble in the Jungle.”
After losing the title to Leon Spinks on a split decision in 1978, he regained it later that year when he defeated Spinks on a unanimous decision.
“Muhammad Ali was truly the greatest – an athlete who transcended sports to become a global icon,” said Evans, the gold medal Olympian swimmer.
“He inspired me – and millions of others around the world – to be the best version of ourselves.”