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    Legendary athlete and activist Muhammad Ali passed away on June 3, 2016. To read about his upcoming funeral, click here.

    Louisville (and the world) lost an icon; an American legend who became one of the most recognizable athletes of all time. Like all great American legends, Ali was also a great American character. Here are nine things you might not know about Ali:


    1. He actually went through two name changes.

    It is pretty well known that Ali’s birth name was Cassius Clay — fewer know he had another name before he became Muhammad Ali. When he joined the nation of Islam in February 26, 1964, he became Cassius X. Due to a falling out between himself and his mentor, Malcolm X, he changed his name to Muhammad Ali on March 6, 1964.

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    2. He was part Irish.

    Believe it or not, Ali was part Irish. His great grandfather, Abe Grady, immigrated to America from Ireland in the 1840s during the great potato famine. 

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    3. He negotiated the return of American hostages from Saddam Hussein. 

    In 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and took 15 hostages. With much resistance from President Bush, Ali flew into Iraq to help free the hostages. It took a week in Iraq before Saddam would meet with him to discuss the situation. However, since Ali was a Muslim, Saddam agreed to meet and talk, which directly led to the release of 15 hostages. 



    4. He once showed up at Sonny Liston’s house at 3 a.m. on a school bus.

    One of Ali’s most legendary fights was in 1964 against Sonny Liston in Miami, Florida. Liston was the reigning champ and was not too eager to fight the trash-talking 22-year-old Ali. In an effort to persuade Liston into a fight, Ali drove a bus from Chicago to Liston’s house in Denver (1,000+ miles) and told the press to be there. He arrived at 3 a.m. in the bus covered in slogans like “Liston Will Go in Eight.” Liston would go on to quit at the beginning of the seventh round, and also lose in the rematch against Ali.


    5. He was a multi-talented musician.

    By 1963, before he was even the Heavyweight Champion of the world, Ali had released a 12-track spoken-word album with Columbia Records entitled “I Am The Greatest.” It even features a cover of Ben E. King’s classic “Stand By Me.” For more on his album, click here.

    Ali was also in the Broadway musical “Buck White,” which opened on December 2, 1969. Unfortunately, the show only played for four nights and was shut down after seven shows.



    6. He only wore the robe Elvis gave him once. 

    Elvis Presley gave Ali a robe as a gift which said “The People’s Champion.” Ali wore it to his next fight, but lost, so the robe was never worn again. He thought it was bad luck.



    7. As a toddler, he knocked his own mother's tooth out.

    At 18 months old, Ali reportedly punched his mother's tooth right out of her mouth while waving his arms around. 

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    8. He talked Will Smith into taking on the title role in "Ali"

    Denzel Washington was the original choice for the role of Ali, but Will Smith was chosen due to a push by Ali and his family. Smith did not want the role at first, saying, “Intellectually, I didn't feel that I possessed what it took to become Muhammad Ali." Ali called and talked him into it. After that, Michael Mann and Will Smith were so confident in the success of the movie they offered to give up their own salaries should the film fail. Will Smith will be a pallbearer at Ali's funeral in Louisville this weekend. 



    9. He was a part-time magician.

    Many celebrities from every inch of the world paid respects on social media in the past few days, but no tribute may be more interesting and insightful than one from Paul McCartney. He posted a photo of The Champ with the Beatles and also tells us about Ali’s hobby as a magician. In the post, McCartney says, “Besides being the greatest boxer, he was a beautiful, gentle man with a great sense of humor who would often pull a pack of cards out of his pocket, no matter how posh the occasion, and do a card trick for you. The world has lost a truly great man. Love Paul" 


    Rob Niece's picture

    About Rob Niece

    University of Louisville Senior / Journalist / Human.

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