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Happy Birthday Ali!

He was born Cassius Clay on January 18, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, but he would be known the world over as Muhammad Ali. He grew up in an old house on Louisville's Grand Avenue where he held court on his porch telling his neighbors: "You see this house? It's gonna be a shrine one day."

One of the most original and beloved figures in sports history, Ali's exuberance and vitality endeared him even to people who knew nothing about boxing.

Boxing publicist Irving Rudd accompanied Muhammad on many of his training expeditions and adventures, and remembers a particular time in 1976 when Ali was training for a title defense at the Concord Hotel in the Catskills in upstate New York.

"Our entourage took over all the rooms in the golf clubhouse," Rudd recalled "He had his own cook, a Muslim woman named Lana Shabazz, who specialized in fresh fruits and vegetables and made a hell of a pecan pie.

"But every one in a while, Ali had a hankering for regular food and that gave his bodyguards something to worry about. One Friday night, cold turkey, he shows up in the main dining room. Big as life, with that regal presence, all smiles, he walks through the room.

"'Muhammad!' 'Champ! Champ! Champ!'

"Gray-haired old bubbies were calling out his name. They loved him, and he loved it. Ali bent down and kissed the old ladies, shook hands with everybody, signed a few autographs. They all had themselves a time, including his bodyguards, but that was on safe territory.

"Another time, Ali took off from his roadwork and wandered into South Fallsburg, a nearby town. It was like a scene out of "Rocky." Kids trailed after him chanting "Ali! Ali!" People flocked around him asking for autographs. He was the Pied Piper in a sweat suit. The people loved every minute of him out there in the open, but his bodyguards sweated it out."

Ali's exuberance and love of people was genuine. I experienced it firsthand one day when I was in the elevator in the Empire State Building on my way to a business meeting.

The door opened, and in stepped Ali together with what I assumed were two big bodyguards. Although never a collector of celebrity autographs, I had always been a great fan of Muhammad Ali. So I reached into my jacket pocket for a pen and index card, planning to ask Ali to sign his name for me. My wrist was suddenly grabbed by one of the bodyguards and pinned against my chest. But Ali snapped, "Leave the guy alone. Can't you tell he's a friend?"

He took my pen and index card and wrote: "Harvey, you are the greatest! - Ali"

After finishing my business in the Empire State Building, I went down the elevator and out onto 34th Street. There in front was a green Jaguar with a license plate which said simply "ALI."

He called himself "the Greatest." He used lyric verse to describe his style of boxing: "Float like a butterfly; sting like a bee." For his third fight with Joe Frazier, he used an even worse verse: "It will be a killa/and a chilla/and a thrilla/when I get the gorilla/in Manilla."

He was the greatest; he is the greatest.

 

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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in the millions and is housed on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.
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Dr. Frommer is the Official Book Reviewer of Travel-Watch. 
*Autographed copies of Frommer books are available .
 

Other Frommer sports related articles can be found at:   

Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

 

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