Tomorrow is the 70th birthday of the man who is perhaps still the most famous boxer in the world, even 30 years after his retirement.
Muhammad Ali was born as Cassius Marcellus Clay on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky, and went on to win the World Heavyweight Championship an unprecedented three times. He celebrated his birthday at an event in Louisville last Saturday night, the first of five appearances planned to mark the milestone in the next few months.
Despite being named the top sports figure of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated and the BBC, among others, Muhammad Ali's fame transcends the world of athletics: An outspoken black American who became one of the most famous people on the planet at the height of the U.S. civil rights movement, he had an electrifying impact on the discussion about race relations in his home country. His conversion to Islam and refusal to serve in the Vietnam War were watershed moments in the late 1960s, and galvanized antiwar protests.
Ali's most famous turns in the ring came in the 1970s, each with their own zeitgeist-informing name: "The Fight of the Century" against the undefeated Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden in New York, "The Rumble in the Jungle" against George Formean in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), and the "Thrilla in Manila" rematch against Frazier in the Philippines.
Ali's last bout was in 1981, but he has remained a prominent public figure, well known for his political activism and his charitable work. His public appearances have been greatly reduced in recent years as a result of his struggle with Parkinson's disease, an illness that often afflicts those who have suffered head trauma (such as boxers).
When We Were Kings, a documentary about the Rumble in the Jungle, was released in 1996, and reintroduced a new generation to Ali's charismatic quotability. Check out the trailer below:
On the occasion of his 50th birthday, a TV gala brought out a series of stars to celebrate the champ, including an emotional tribute from Ali's friend and occasional media nemesis, sports broadcaster Howard Cossell:
In 1978, U.K. TV mainstay This Is Your Life brought Ali out for a surprise appearance, featuring his wife, his parents and even his rival Joe Frazier:
All Time 10s, perennial makers of Top 10 list videos, also recently compiled the following list of the top Muhammad Ali quotes of all time:
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