The life of late legendary boxer Muhammad Ali will be celebrated with a public funeral procession and memorial service on Friday in his home town of Louisville, Kentucky, a family spokesman said.
Ali, the three-time world heavyweight champion and colorful civil rights activist whose fame transcended the world of sports and made him an iconic figure of the 20th century, died Friday at age 74 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
The dazzling fighter — whose words, often delivered in catchy rhymes, were as devastating as his punches — had been admitted to an Arizona hospital earlier in the week.
From political leaders to sports figures to Hollywood’s A-list, the world paused to remember “The Greatest,” whose remarkable career spanned three decades, and whose battle with illness later in life moved his fans.
After a private family funeral on Thursday, Ali’s coffin will move through the streets of Louisville on Friday, June 10, before a public memorial service at an arena, with former president Bill Clinton among those expected to offer eulogies.
The procession has been organized to “allow anyone that is there from the world to say goodbye,” family spokesman Bob Gunnell told reporters in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Louisville lowered flags to half-staff in his honor, as fans flocked to his modest childhood home, now a museum, to pay their respects and leave flowers.
President Barack Obama led tributes for Ali, issuing an unusually personal statement in which he said he keeps a pair of Ali’s boxing gloves and a photo in his private study.
“Muhammad Ali was The Greatest. Period,” the US president said, hailing Ali for his integrity and saying he “stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn’t.”
“His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing. It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled and nearly send him to jail. But Ali stood his ground,” Obama said.
“And his victory helped us get used to the America we recognize today.”
Obama later called Ali’s widow Lonnie, telling her “how special it was to have witnessed ‘The Champ’ change the arc of history,” deputy White House spokeswoman Jennifer Friedman said.
In a possible preview of Bill Clinton’s eulogy, he and his wife Hillary, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for the White House, said Ali was “a blend of beauty and grace, speed and strength that may never be matched again.”
Ali was hospitalized in the Phoenix area early this week, but his condition quickly deteriorated, and his family came to his bedside.
“His final hours were spent with just immediate family,” Gunnell said, noting the official cause of death was septic shock due to unspecified natural causes.
“He did not suffer.”
Ali had been living in the Phoenix area with Lonnie. His fourth marriage, it was officiated in 1986. He was survived by nine children — seven daughters and two sons.
The fighter himself planned much of the memorial events, Gunnell said.
The interfaith service is to be conducted at Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center in accordance with “Muslim tradition” and in the presence of an Imam. Comedian Billy Crystal and sports journalist Bryant Gumbel are also expected to speak.
Ali is to be buried at Cave Hill Cemetery in his native Louisville, where he was born in 1942. His body will be brought home in the next two days.
Outside the family home in Louisville and the hospital in Scottsdale, fans left flowers, letters and mementos in Ali’s honor.
“He just represents everything that was good about mankind and it’s sad to see him go,” said James Brice.
Ali — born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr in Louisville on January 17, 1942 — dazzled fans with slick moves in the ring, and with his wit and engaging persona outside it.
He famously said he could he “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” in the ring.
The fighter took the name of Muhammad Ali after converting to Islam in 1964.