January 23, 2018
Friday, June 10, 2016

The final tribute

A man watches a slide show of Muhammad Ali photos displayed on a screen outside the KFC Yum! Center where mourners will attend a memorial service for the boxing legend in Louisville, Kentucky.
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Fans chanting "Ali!" and throwing flowers lined the streets of Muhammad Ali's hometown in Kentucky today for a funeral procession to celebrate the boxing champion who jolted America with his showmanship and won worldwide admiration as a man of principle.

Ali, a once-controversial convert to Islam who lost three years of his boxing career for refusing US military service during the Vietnam War, died a week ago at age 74 as one of the most respected men in the United States.

Mourners traveled from across the United States and overseas to the city of Louisville to pay tribute to Ali. Many tossed flowers atop the hearse carrying his casket as part of an 18-car procession over 23 miles (37 km) in a farewell unlike any other in recent US history.

Thousands gathered in the streets and large crowds amassed at landmarks along the route such as his boyhood home in a traditionally African-American section of town and the Muhammad Ali Center, a museum in the city center.

The procession was to end at a cemetery for a private burial beneath a headstone reading simply, "Ali."

"It was important for me to be here," said Matt Alexander, 63, who traveled from Florida. "I cried like a baby when I heard he'd died. I just didn't want to believe it because I wanted him to live forever."

After the procession, thousands of people were expected to fill a sports arena for a memorial featuring eulogies by former US President Bill Clinton and comedian Billy Crystal. Police said crowding along the procession route would delay the start of the memorial service, possibly by an hour to 3 p.m.

Jordan's King Abdullah had been announced as one of the dignitaries due to attend the sports arena for the service. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who attended a Muslim funeral for Ali on Thursday, cut short his visit to Louisville and will not take part in Friday's event as planned.

Pallbearers will include actor Will Smith, who earned an Oscar nomination for playing the title role in the 2001 film "Ali," and former heavyweight champs Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis.

Fans such as Cathy Oost, 61, a retired public school teacher who lives in Louisville, was one of several hundred people to gather under blue skies at the cemetery gates to pay their respects. She held a sign that read "Our Champ, Our Hero."

Oost said she was struck by Ali's speaking out for racial equality and his stance against the Vietnam War, plus his defense of Islam. Ali, a three-time world heavyweight champion, also paved the way for black athletes to express themselves with flair and confidence, and gave US Muslims a hero they could share with mainstream America.

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Tags:  Muhammad Ali  final  tribute  boxing  champion  celebrities  fans  world leaders  

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