Stars, Politicians and 15,000 Fans Turn out in Louisville to Send off The Greatest
By Rupert Cornwell
The people's champ could not have wished for a more perfect send-off. The sky over his native Louisville was crystal blue. Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis – two of his successors when the heavyweight crown still meant something – were among the pall bearers. At the funeral service a king was in attendance and a former president spoke. But, best of all, the people, the ordinary people who he had thrilled, inspired, and given hope, were there en masse to say goodbye.
That was exactly how Muhammad Ali , that most accessible of sports heroes, wanted it. He had planned his own passing. The ceremony in the main sports arena in Kentucky’s largest city was attended by the inevitable phalanx of VIPs – politicians, sportsmen, celebrities of every walk of life and hue. But 15,000 ordinary people were there too. In death too, Ali was accessible to everyone.
On the streets outside the crowds were even greater, lined in their tens of thousands along the 19-mile route of the funeral procession, as the hearse, passed his childhood home and through the neighborhoods where he was just a kid named Cassius Clay. “Al-i, Al-i,” they chanted.
Behind the limousine, covered in an Islamic tapestry and strewn with flowers, a kid was keeping pace, shadow boxing as he trotted along. Finally, the champ was laid to rest in Louisville’s Cave Hill cemetery, beneath a simple gravestone inscribed simply, Ali.
The pomp came later at the memorial service, Islamic but interfaith. As with the best funerals, sadness mixed with joyful exuberance. And coursing through everything was a contemporary political relevance that Ali would have loved.
Republicans and Democrats may be girding for the most brutal presidential campaign in decades, while Muslims and Islam are not exactly beloved in America right now. Yet the commemoration of a man who turned from pariah into America’s most adored son, showed that unity, albeit fleeting, is not impossible. - Independent