This morning I turned on CNN to catch a few news tidbits as I was going about my first-of-the-morning routine, and for the first time in nearly a year, I did not see a single political clip for a full 45 minutes! It was like a breath of fresh air, though the reason is not a happy one. “Muhammad Ali – dead at age 74″, read the banner across the bottom of the screen.
Ali, of course, is best known for his boxing career that spanned some 21 years, but he was much more than just a boxer. He was an entertainer, a civil rights activist, a humanitarian, a larger-than-life figure. His life is, perhaps, best summed by what he said after winning his first heavyweight title, “I don’t have to be who you want me to be; I’m free to be who I want.” And that is exactly what he did for the rest of his 74 years.
No less than five books have been written about Ali’s life, and today the media is filled with stories detailing his career, his life, his persona, so I will not write what others have already written. Instead, I will let Mr. Ali speak for himself:
- “The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”
- “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”
- “Don’t count the days; make the days count.”
- “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”
- “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
- “A man who has no imagination has no wings.”
- “Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.”
- “Live everyday as if it were your last because someday you’re going to be right.”
The death of Muhammad Ali is sad, as are most deaths, but the greater tragedy is that since 1984 he had been battling Parkinson’s disease and for the last several years, his mobility and ability to speak were so severely hampered that he was kept from doing the things he most enjoyed … being with people, entertaining.
And so, once again we say ‘goodbye’ to a legend, a bigger than life persona. Neither I nor anyone else could offer a greater tribute than Mr. Ali himself, who said: “I’d like to be remembered as a black man who won the heavyweight title and who was humorous and who treated everyone right. As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him and who helped as many of his people as he could — financially and also in their fight for freedom, justice and equality.” And so you shall, Muhammad Ali. Rest in Peace.