The KFC Yum Center isn’t typically a place for a funeral. However, most people aren’t the greatest boxer who ever lived. Most people aren’t cultural icons. Most people aren’t world champions and Olympic gold medalists. Most people aren’t Muhammad Ali, who was honored today with a funeral procession and incredible memorial service. The three-time world heavyweight champion boxer is a legend, and not just in his home town of Louisville, Kentucky. He’s a legend that belongs to the world, and that was evident in his memorial services this week.
One of Ali’s biggest desires, when he planned his funeral, was that it wouldn’t be only for dignitaries, it would be for everyone. Rich or poor, black or white, Christian or Muslim, Ali wanted it to be an event for everyone to enjoy. His jenazah, a Muslim funeral service, was opened to people of all faiths, and 18000 people gathered in Freedom Hall, where Ali fought some of his biggest fights. His funeral procession went across the entire city of Lousiville, going from the funeral home to the west end streets where Ali grew up, past his childhood home, past the Ali Center, and back again to Cave Hill Cemetery, where His memorial service was hosted by an iman, but featured speakers of many faiths, including Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Christian, Buddhist, and Native American traditions. The Ali family spoke, along with long-time family friends like Billy Crystal and former President Bill Clinton.
“He was funny. He was beautiful. He was the most perfect athlete you ever saw,” said comedian Billy Crystal, who first met Ali in 1974. “And those were his own words.” Crystal added, “Muhammad Ali taught us life is best when you build bridges between people, not walls.”
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