Muhammed Ali passed away today after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. Catapulted to celebrity by his prowess in the ring he was celebrated for his heart as much as his hands. In a previous post I referenced Ali with a link to a classic bit where George Carlin gave his thoughts on Ali’s (then Cassius Clay) conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War draft.
About a year after Muhammad Ali won the last of his three world heavyweight boxing titles he accepted an invitation to Texas A&M by the Memorial Student Center Great Issues and the Black Awareness Committee (which later became the MSC Woodson Black Awareness Committee) to discuss world peace.
Ali spoke to a crowd of 1,200 students in G. Rollie White Coliseum sighting friendship and tolerance as the key to future world peace. At the time, the Cold War between the USA and the USSR was active and rising tensions in Iran were on the verge of what resulted in 52 American diplomats and citizens being taken hostage.
His message was simple, known for his public bravado he warned that our egos were to blame for racial and religious conflict. “The real Ali is spiritual,” he said. “As long as this ego lives, man can never claim to be a friend of another. There is only one thing that can straighten out the world, and that’s the heart.”
Muhammad Ali was the first celebrity I ever photographed and I have never forgotten the experience. After shadowing him with my camera he started to take witty little jabs at me. When I went to thank him and say goodbye he acted like he was going to punch me so I flattened my hand as a target and he punched my palm…what could be better than getting hit by arguably the “Greatest of All Time”?