SI. com (Supports Illustrated) reporting today that he turned 70.
For photographer Neil Leifer, the four days he spent early this month at Muhammad Ali’s house in Paradise Valley, Ariz., were both a revelation and wonderfully familiar. Leifer had read dire reports that after decades of battling Parkinson’s disease, Ali was on his deathbed, yet Leifer found the fighter alert and cooperative. Though Ali seldom speaks (except with his wife, Lonnie, and other family members), he “doesn’t miss a thing,” Leifer says. The photographer, who began shooting for SI in 1958 and has taken more than 170 of the magazine’s cover photos, went out to dinner with Ali and Lonnie and, at home, watched Ali undergo the extensive stretching routine that helps maintain his mobility. “After the session,” Leifer says, “the difference in his walking was noticeable.”
And when it came time to take the photos, says Leifer, who first shot Ali in 1963 and has photographed him countless times since then, “it was like the old days.” Ali appeared to thrive on the engagement. “The shot with his fists up was his idea,” says Leifer. “He was every photographer’s and every writer’s favorite subject, whether you liked him or not, because he always made you look good.”
The name Cassius Clay first appeared in the pages of SI in 1958. The reference was to a 19th-century Kentucky politician and emancipationist. Two years later, in our April 18, 1960, issue, the name showed up again, this time attached to a decidedly more contemporary figure. That week’s FOR THE RECORD section listed the “20 diligent-punching young men” who had qualified for the U.S. Olympic Boxing Trials, and it noted that Clay, a 178-pounder from Louisville who was named after the statesman, had been declared the outstanding boxer of the AAU tournament. He would go on, of course, to become the outstanding boxer of, well, forever, and he would show up countless more times in SI and appear on 38 covers. In many ways he and the magazine came of age together.
Now Ali is turning 70. They’re planning a big birthday bash for him in Las Vegas on Feb. 18. (Never mind that his actual birthday is Jan. 17.) The celebration—an “undisputed heavyweight event” at the MGM Grand Garden Arena that will be recorded and broadcast on ABC a week later—is a gala occasion for celebrities and the public to gather for a feel-good, charity-benefiting (and ratings-driving) tribute to the man who is perhaps the one universally beloved figure in the U.S. today. Read further in SI.com
Ali in 1967
The People’s Champion
The Louisville Lip
|Height||6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)|
|Reach||80 in (203 cm)|
|Born||January 17, 1942 (age 70)
Louisville, Kentucky, USA
|Wins by KO||37|
Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr.; January 17, 1942) is an American former professional boxer, philanthropist and social activist. Considered a cultural icon, Ali was both idolized and vilified.
Originally known as Cassius Clay, Ali changed his name after joining the Nation of Islam in 1964, subsequently converting to Sunni Islam in 1975, and more recently practicing Sufism. In 1967, three years after Ali had won the World Heavyweight Championship, he was publicly vilified for his refusal to be conscripted into the U.S. military, based on his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War. Ali stated, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong… No Viet Cong ever called me nigger” – one of the more telling remarks of the era.
Widespread protests against the Vietnam War had not yet begun, but with that one phrase, Ali articulated the reason to oppose the war for a generation of young Americans, and his words served as a touchstone for the racial and antiwar upheavals that would rock the 1960s. Ali’s example inspired Martin Luther King Jr. – who had been reluctant to alienate the Johnson Administration and its support of the civil rights agenda – to voice his own opposition to the war for the first time.
Ali would eventually be arrested and found guilty on draft evasion charges; he was stripped of his boxing title, and his boxing license was suspended. He was not imprisoned, but did not fight again for nearly four years while his appeal worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was eventually successful.
Nicknamed “The Greatest,” Ali was involved in several historic boxing matches. Notable among these were three with rival Joe Frazier, which are considered among the greatest in boxing history, and one with George Foreman, where he finally regained his stripped titles seven years later. Ali was well known for his unorthodox fighting style, which he described as “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”, and employing techniques such as the Ali Shuffle and the rope-a-dope. Ali had brought beauty and grace to the most uncompromising of sports and through the wonderful excesses of skill and character, he had become the most famous athlete in the world. He was also known for his pre-match hype, where he would “trash talk” opponents, often with rhymes.