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Muhammad Ali, Boxing Legend And Louisville Native, Has Died At Age 74

Muhammad Ali at the dedication of the Ali Center in Louisville, 2005
Muhammad Ali at the dedication of the Ali Center in Louisville, 2005

The world is remembering Muhammad Ali today. The boxing legend, humanitarian and goodwill ambassador has died at the age of 74. He passed away at a hospital in Phoenix late Friday after battling respiratory problems, according to NPR.

Ali was a native of Louisville. He had not lived full-time in his hometown for many years, but his presence here has always loomed large, and there was a constant Louisville thread in his life.

The educational and cultural center that bears his name sits on the banks of the Ohio River in Louisville. Over the years, he has returned often for events at the center, University of Louisville games and to visit family and friends.

“I’m recognized all over the world now, but my greatness came and started in Louisville, Kentucky," Ali said in 1974 after he defeated George Foreman in the fight known as the Rumble in the Jungle. "And it’s one of the greatest cities in America, Louisville, Kentucky. And I predict that Louisville, Kentucky will have another world champion because Louisville is the greatest.”

His wife, Lonnie, is from Louisville, too. They were married in 1986. In a 2005 interview, she talked about how she was drawn to Ali’s charisma.

“When you see somebody like that and you see somebody so self-assured, so worldly, so knowledgeable, who carries himself with such grace, with humor -- the way he treats other people -- yeah, he definitely was a big inspiration in my young life," she said.

Ali’s professional boxing career was launched with the help of a team of investors from Louisville. The businessmen introduced young Cassius Clay -- as he was then known -- to the man who would become his longtime trainer and mentor, the late Angelo Dundee.

Dundee, who died in 2012, talked about his working relationship with Ali during a visit to Louisville.

“There will never be another Ali, never," Dundee said. "I’m not saying this biasly or being prejudiced. With Muhammad, he was very, very, very special. Easiest kid I ever worked with, easiest guy I ever trained."

Dundee said the key to their relationship was having fun. "We had fun from day one," he said. "When we see each other, it’s a hug. That’s the way it should be.”

Ali’s Louisville Legacy Preserved

Ali's boyhood home in West Louisville was recently renovated and turned into a museum. It opened to the public Memorial Day weekend.

It’s where he lived when he was introduced to boxing by a police officer who urged him to take up the sport when Ali wanted to get even with a kid who stole his bike.

The home was purchased and renovated by two investors and Ali fans. One of them is George Bochetto, a Philadelphia attorney and former Pennsylvania boxing commissioner.

“I’d like to see people, regular people, ordinary people -- people that themselves are growing up in modest circumstances -- understand and see what’s possible," Bochetto said. "All you need is the hard work and determination, and it could all come true.”

Ali’s brash persona as a boxer and his resistance to the draft during the Vietnam War rankled some people in Louisville and elsewhere. But some of that ill will has been softened in the passing years by Ali’s humanitarian work and his decades-long public battle with Parkinson’s disease.

During a speech in Louisville a decade ago, former President Bill Clinton paid tribute to Ali’s leadership.

“You proved once again that power of example matters a lot more than the example of power,” Clinton said.

In addition to his wife and his brother, Rahman, Muhammad Ali is survived by nine children.

Rick Howlett was midday host and the host of LPM's weekly talk show, "In Conversation." He was with LPM from 2001-2023 and held many different titles, including Morning Edition host, Assignment Editor and Interim News Director. He died in August 2023. Read a remembrance of Rick here.

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