The World Says Goodbye to The Greatest — On Friday, June 10, 2016, seven days after his death, a hearse bearing the body of Muhammad Ali left the A.D. Porter & Sons Funeral Home. Leading a procession of black limousines, the hearse rolled through the streets of Louisville on a 19-mile pilgrimage to the Cave Hill Cemetery where Ali’s family members and closest friends would gather for a private graveyard service. Cave Hill, a memorial park that houses monuments and graves of both Union and Confederate Civil War generals, would be Ali’s final earthly home.
An Associated Press reporter, writing without a byline, captured the scene: “As the limousines rolled past on the way to the cemetery, fans chanted like spectators at one of his fights, stood on cars, held up cellphones and signs, ran alongside the hearse and reached out to touch it. They tossed so many flowers onto the windshield that the driver had to pull some of them off to see the road.”
The funeral procession was the prologue to a grand memorial inter-faith service open to the public, the sort of event normally reserved for heads of state. It was held that afternoon before a crowd of more than 15,000 at Louisville’s largest indoor arena as millions more around the world watched on TV. Event organizers reported receiving 2,000 requests for media credentials.
Among the eulogizers were Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, comedian Billy Crystal, sportscaster Bryant Gumbel, and clergy from four religious faiths. President Obama did not attend because he had made a commitment to attend the high school graduation on that day of his youngest daughter, but he sent an emissary with a personal note. Muhammad Ali, said Obama, “showed how a descendant of slaves could become ‘King of the World’ and help inspire a skinny kid with a funny last name to have the audacity to think he could be anything – even the President of the United States.”
To say that Ali transcended the world of sports would be a great understatement. At the peak of his fame, he was the most recognizable man on the planet. Ali’s legend, as a boxer and a civil rights activist, was such that it penetrated even the most remote pockets of civilization.
No one under age 35 saw Muhammad Ali fight in person. Those born after 1981 can’t fully appreciate how big he was during the turbulent decade of the 1960s; one had to be there. But the events in his hometown of Louisville on June 10 told people of all ages that here was a man who was special – not perfect, but a man with a good heart who was larger-than-life and left a lasting footprint.
Ali was 74 years old when he died from the cruel and progressive disease that stilled his voice and aged him beyond his years. The celebration of his life, a proud day in the history of Louisville, was the paramount Boxing Event of the Year in 2016.
The World Says Goodbye to The Greatest / Check out the 2016 Event of the Year video at The Boxing Channel.