MUHAMMAD ALI began his final journey as the boxing legend’s body was flown to his Kentucky hometown for his funeral on Friday, The Sun reports. The iconic boxer’s family said the “world was invited” to the funeral as they accompanied his coffin back to Louisville from Arizona.
Former US President Bill Clinton and comedian Billy Crystal are expected to speak at a memorial service for The Greatest at the city’s KFC Yum! arena on Friday. A small family service will be held on Thursday before the three-time heavyweight world champion’s coffin is driven through Louisville on Friday to a private burial at the Cave Hill Cemetery.
The final images of Ali were published by The Sun today in a world exclusive tribute to sport’s great icon. Ali passed away on Friday at the age of 74 after a 30-year battle with Parkinson’s disease. Upon his arrival back in Louisville, the city’s mayor Greg Fischer tweeted: “Ali is home now.”
“The Champ was a supernatural figure who crossed all kinds of boundaries, from athletics to arts, to humanitarian activities, from black to white, from Christians to Islam, and he belongs to the world. “There will be people coming from all over.” He confirmed the city was prepared to “handle big crowds”.
The official cause of Ali’s death was given as septic shock due to unspecified natural causes. His family – including wife Lonnie – made the decision to turn off his life support machine on Friday after treatment for a cough had seen his condition deteriorate rapidly.
Daughter Hana revealed that even in his last moments Ali put up a remarkable fight, with his heart continuing to beat even as his other organs began to fail. She wrote: “All of us were around him hugging and kissing him and holding his hands, chanting the Islamic prayer. “All of his organs failed but his HEART wouldn’t stop beating. For 30 minutes … his heart just kept beating. No one had ever seen anything like it.”
“We all tried to stay strong and whispered in his ear, ‘You can go now. We will be okay. You can go back to God now.” “Our hearts are literally hurting. But we are so happy daddy is free now.” It is feared the family could be hit as Ali’s love children come forward to claim a slice of his £60million fortune.
A family friend said: “The family fear that there may be more children out there and they could come forward to take a slice of his fortune now he has gone. “Things could get very ugly, very quickly.” A stream of figures paid tribute to Ali – who campaigned for civil rights and against the Vietnam War – over the weekend.
President Barack Obama said: “Muhammad Ali was the Greatest. Period. If you just asked him, he’d tell you. “He’d tell you he was the double greatest; that he’d ‘handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder into jail’. “But what made the Champ the greatest – what truly separated him from everyone else – is that everyone else would tell you pretty much the same thing.”
Brit chat show host Michael Parkinson, who interviewed Ali four times during his prime, said interviewing him was the “most important thing that’s ever happened in my professional career in television”. He added: “Every time he appeared he got two million extra viewers – to 15-16 million people sometime.
“He was the one person I met who I interviewed four times, and had a relationship with.” “You knew you were in the presence of an extraordinary human being and a great star. He was dynamite”.
Ali dominated the golden age of heavyweight boxing in the 1960s and 1970s, seeing off rivals Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier and George Foreman in a series of classic bouts including the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thriller in Manila. The ‘Louisville Lip’ first rose to fame after winning Olympic light-heavyweight gold aged just 18 at the 1960 Rome Olympics.
He changed his name from Cassius Clay in 1964 after converting to Islam. The outspoken Ali would later become just as famous for his political campaigning, sacrificing his world titles as he refused to fight in Vietnam.
He won 56 of his 61 bouts in a career spanning 21 years.