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But he became a critic of his country and a government target in 1966 with his declaration “I ain’t got nothing against them Vietcong.”“He lived a lot of lives for a lot of people,” said the comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory.
“He was able to tell white folks for us to go to hell.”As the fight progressed, the crowd chanted, “Ali, bomaye! ”), first out of concern as Ali leaned against the ropes and absorbed Foreman’s sledgehammer blows on his arms and shoulders, and then in mounting excitement as Foreman wore himself out.
(Both productions sanitized his early religious and political viewpoints.) The same licensing firm that owned most of Elvis Presley’s image purchased rights to Ali’s.
Thomas Hauser, his biographer, decried the new “commercialism” surrounding Ali and “the rounding off the rough edges of his journey.” In a book of essays published in 2005, “The Lost Legacy of Muhammad Ali,” Hauser wrote, “We should cherish the memory of Ali as a warrior and as a gleaming symbol of defiance against an unjust social order when he was young.”In 2005, calling him the greatest boxer of all time, President George W.
Ali was soon told that he had Parkinson’s syndrome.
Several doctors have speculated that it was brought on by too many punches to the head.
In 1996, he was trembling and nearly mute as he lit the Olympic caldron in Atlanta. Ali also proved to be a shape-shifter — a public figure who kept reinventing his persona.
That passive image was far removed from the exuberant, talkative, vainglorious 22-year-old who bounded out of Louisville, Ky., and onto the world stage in 1964 with an upset victory over Sonny Liston to become the world champion. As a bubbly teenage gold medalist at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, he parroted America’s Cold War line, lecturing a Soviet reporter about the superiority of the United States.
Even as he lost mobility and speech, he traveled often from his home in Berrien Springs, Mich.In later life Ali became something of a secular saint, a legend in soft focus.He was respected for having sacrificed more than three years of his boxing prime and untold millions of dollars for his antiwar principles after being banished from the ring; he was extolled for his un-self-conscious gallantry in the face of incurable illness, and he was beloved for his accommodating sweetness in public.Product and corporate endorsements brought him closer to the “show me the money” sensibilities of Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, the heirs to his global celebrity.In 1999, Ali became the first boxer on a Wheaties box. 31 that year, he rang out the millennium at the New York Stock Exchange.