The legend of Muhammad Ali has been dissected, with the thoroughness of an obsessive compulsive house cleaner. What else could there be to learn, to see, about The Greatest that the movies and books and newspaper stories and person haven’t already communicated?
By the looks of it, “I AM ALI,” just might do the trick on shedding some light on the most acclaimed athlete of any and all times…and I say that with a degree of safety, as I know that the world as we know it will have to be in a different place for such a persona to emerge on both the sportsman stage, and on the grander stage, as a character to be admired, loathed and studied for ages.
The flick, which gets released into theaters on Oct. 10, promises “unprecedented access to Ali’s personal archive of audio journals, combined with touching interviews and testimonials from his inner circle of family and friends.”
Of that inner circle, I was lucky enough to touch base with master fixer-facilitator-friend of Ali, Gene Kilroy, who lives in Vegas and is in regular touch with Ali, who doesn’t speak, but does light up when his old business manager calls.
I put it to him point-blank: Gene, is there anything new in the film, don’t we already know all there is to know about the man?
“Sure, there’s a lot of stuff you don’t know,” he told me. “I was a blessed man to spend time with him, and discuss things people aren’t aware of. He was a man of compassion, for the poor, the powerless, the depressed, no matter their race. He had depth. And this shows him caring for his kids, and his humanitarian side. You’ve seen the fighter, now you see the father and the humanitarian.”
Writer/director Clare Lewins drew praise from Kilroy, for hustling and grinding to make this happen. She rounded up fighters, like George Foreman, and family and friends, like Kilroy.
“There’s no person on earth that knows Ali better than me,” Kilroy said. “People at a press conference wouldn’t want to hear about him helping children, or doing charity, or how he loves his children. They’d want to hear about up and coming fights.”
So, the audience is there for softer stuff, “good news?”
Hopefully, Kilroy says, with a touch of earned cynicism, of which we all have a right to. “I’m no big celebrity, but if I saved someone’s life, it wouldn’t make any headlines. But if I was accused of harassing a girl, there’d be a load of headlines, even though I was innocent. The old saying is, ‘You do something right, they never remember, you do something wrong, they never forget.'” Kilroy sees the doc as being a positive example of a journalist, or a film-maker, or storyteller seeking out the three sides to every story.
Anyway, no, Ali doesn’t speak any more. But his face still speaks volumes. And Kilroy holds on to memories, like this one: “He was having trouble, and I said, ‘It’s not fair to see you like this. And Ali said, ‘I’d rather get my punishment here on earth, than in Hell.”
That one’s new to me. Check out “I Am Ali” in October. I will be.
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