In Pictures: Boxer Muhammad Ali’s Memorial Service in Louisville
Louisville and the rest of the world said goodbye to Muhammad Ali, The Greatest on Friday
Louisville and the rest of the world said goodbye to The Greatest on Friday, showering affection on Muhammad Ali in a funeral procession through the streets of his hometown, followed by a star-studded memorial service where he was saluted as a brash and outspoken breaker of racial barriers.
An estimated 100,000 people holding signs and chanting, “Ali! Ali!” lined the streets as a hearse carrying his cherry-red casket made its way past his childhood home to Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery, where a private graveside service was held for the three-time heavyweight champion of the world.
The memorial service was held at a sports arena packed with celebrities, athletes and politicians, including former President Bill Clinton, comedian Billy Crystal, Sen. Orrin Hatch, director Spike Lee, former NFL great Jim Brown, Arnold Schwarzenegger, soccer star David Beckham, Whoopi Goldberg and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Muhammad Ali’s widow, Lonnie Ali, in her first public remarks since his death, took the stage in an oversized hat that shielded her eyes and talked about how Ali wanted to be remembered in death.
Mohammad indicated that when the end came for him, he wanted to use his life and his death as a teaching momentLonnie Ali, Muhammad Ali’s widow
“He wanted to remind people who are suffering that he had seen the face of injustice.”
She reminded the thousands listening that his message still resonates. She says he was prepared to sacrifice all he had, all that he was, to follow his soul.
“Even in death, Mohammad has something to say. It is far more difficult to sacrifice one’s self in search of peace than to take up arms.”
Senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett has read a letter from President Barack Obama at Muhammad Ali’s memorial in which Obama praised Ali for inspiring “a young mixed kid with a funny name to have the audacity to believe he could be anything, even the president of the United States.”
Obama was unable to make the trip because of his daughter Malia’s high school graduation. Jarrett said she was chosen to go instead because she knew Ali for 45 years.
Obama’s letter said Ali was bigger than America, and it noted the world flocked to the champ “because Muhammad Ali was America. Brash. Defiant. Pioneering. Never tired. Always game to test the odds. He was our most basic freedoms: religion, speech, spirit. He embodied our ability to invent ourselves. His life spoke to our origins of slavery and discrimination and the journey he traveled shocked our consciousness and led us on a roundabout path toward salvation.
Kevin Cosby, pastor of a Louisville church, told the crowd of up to 15,000 people at the KFC Yum! Center that the boxing great “dared to affirm the power and capacity of African-Americans” and infused them with a “sense of somebodiness.”
He likened Ali to such racial trailblazers as Jesse Owens, Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson.
“Before James Brown said, ‘I’m black and I’m proud,’ Muhammad Ali said, ‘I’m black and I’m pretty,’” Cosby said. “Blacks and pretty were an oxymoron.”
Ali, the most magnetic and controversial athlete of the 20th century, died last Friday at 74 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
The casket, draped with an Islamic tapestry, was loaded into a hearse outside a funeral home. The pallbearers included former boxers Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis and actor Will Smith, who played Ali in the movies. Ali’s nine children, his widow, two of his ex-wives and other family members accompanied the body to the cemetery.
The 19-mile drive took Ali’s body past the little pink house where he grew up and the museum that bears his name. At one point, the procession went along Muhammad Ali Boulevard.
As the long line of black limousines rolled past, fans chanted like spectators at one of his fights, pumped their fists, stood on cars, held up cellphones and signs, ran alongside the hearse and reached out to touch it. They tossed so many flowers onto the windshield that the driver had to push some of them aside to see the road.
Others fell silent and looked on reverently as the champ went by.
A traditional Muslim funeral service was held Thursday, with an estimated 6,000 admirers arriving from all over the world.
Ali himself decided years ago that his funeral would be open to ordinary fans, not just VIPs. As a result, thousands of free tickets to Friday’s memorial were made available and were snatched up within an hour.
“Muhammad indicated that when the end came for him, he wanted to use his life and his death as a teaching moment. He wanted to remind people who are suffering that he had seen the face of injustice,” she said. “He never became bitter enough to quit or engage in violence.”
Rumors that Donald Trump would attend were quashed Friday morning when Gunnell said the Republican presidential candidate called Ali’s widow to say he was unable to make it.
People gathered early in the day outside Ali’s boyhood home, which was decorated with balloons, flags, flowers and posters. Fans took photos of themselves in front of the house. Some people staked out their places nearby with lawn chairs.
A sightseeing company offered tours of Ali’s path through the city. Businesses printed his quotes across their billboards. City buses flashed “Ali — The Greatest” in orange lights. And a downtown bridge will be illuminated the rest of the week in red and gold: red for his boxing gloves, gold for his 1960 Olympic medal.
(With inputs from AP)
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