As a followup to 'Of Gods and Kings' I have again contemplated the deaths of national figures. I asked myself, whose death would give me the most pause and cement my time on this earth in the coming years? As most of the famous I have known grow older and many have already passed away, it seemed a good question.
Many of those I admired in my youth were a result of movies and television in my formative years. Many were the stars of my parents day; Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, John Wayne, Robert Mitchum and many others. I think to some extent entertainers are different somehow today than in by-gone days. Of course that could be a romantic notion from 'simpler' times or just plain ignorance on my part. Certainly sports figures are not the same. It truly has become less about the sport and more about 'me' in this day and age. But, then there is the one who started it all.
He is simply known as 'The Greatest'. He is possibly the most well-known figure in the world and has born that title crossing many generations. He is Muhammad Ali, perhaps the greatest boxer than ever donned the gloves. In his early days he was surely not the most beloved. He was brash and loud-mouthed. He talked incessantly to any sportscaster who held up a microphone. In those days he was also known as 'the mouth'. Whether you liked his politics or not, didn't like him changing his name or not, he stood up for what he believed in even when it cost him what he desired most, the heavyweight title. That doesn't mean what it used to. Today there are so many alphabet soup organizations trying to control boxing that the title means nearly nothing, but back in the day, it was different.
I watched a replay of the 'Rumble in the Jungle' on sports classics. The aging boxer of 32 stood up to the Mike Tyson of his day, George Foreman. Foreman hadn't had a fight last longer than four rounds in two years. He was devastatingly the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. The boxer outpaced the slugger and shocked the world once again. But Ali also fought back against racism, the turbulent sixties and an era of unrest in America to become one of this nations most beloved men.
Muhammed Ali has transcended the term icon and stands far above any figure I can think of on this stage. His death in the coming years would most likely mark a moment in my life.
He floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee and stood above a sport now tarnished virtually beyond repair. He is simply, 'The Greatest'.