aka: Cassius Marcellus Clay, Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr.,
Cassius Clay - born 1942

Professional Boxer

Personal Information:
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr.; name changed to Muhammad Ali, 1963; born
January, 17, 1942, in Louisville, KY; son of Cassius (a piano player) and Odessa
Clay (both deceased); first wife, Belinda; second wife, Aaisha; third wife, Veronica
Porche; fourth (and current) wife, Yolanda Williams, married in 1986; children: nine
(one with Yolanda). Religion: Muslim.

Former world heavyweight boxing champion. Began professional career, 1960;
initially became heavyweight champ, 1964; stripped of title and boxing license
over refusal to participate in the Vietnam War, 1966; retired from boxing, 1981.
Appeared in film The Greatest, 1976, and television film Freedom Road.

(With Richard Durham) The Greatest: My Own Story, Random House, 1975.

Biographical Information

Three-time world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, known for his
lyrical charm and boasts as much as for his powerful fists, has moved far beyond

the boxing ring in both influence and purpose. Ali won an Olympic gold medal and
later tossed it into a river because he was disgusted by racism in America. As a
young man he was recruited by Malcolm X to join the Nation of Islam. He refused
to serve in Vietnam--a professional fighter willing to serve time in jail for his pacifist
ideals. He has contributed to countless, diverse charities and causes. And his
later years have found him interested in world politics as he has battled to keep
Parkinson's disease at bay.

Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., on January 17, 1942, and
was raised in a clapboard house at 3302 Grand Avenue in middle-class Louisville,
Kentucky. He began boxing at the age of 12. A white Louisville patrolman named
Joe Martin, who had an early television show called "Tomorrow's Champions,"
started Ali working out in Louisville's Columbia Gym, but it was a black trainer
named Fred Stoner who taught Ali the science of boxing. Stoner taught him
to move with the grace of a dancer, and impressed upon him the subtle skills
necessary to move beyond good and into the realm of great.

After winning an Olympic gold medal at 18, Ali signed the most lucrative contract--
a 50-50 split--negotiated by a beginning professional in the history of boxing, with
a 12-member group of millionaires called the Louisville Sponsoring Group. Later, he
worked his way into contention for the coveted heavyweight title shot by boasting
and creating media interest at a time when, by his own admission, he was only
ranked number nine on the list of contenders. Even from the beginning, it was clear
that Ali was his own man--quick, strong-willed, original, and witty. In 1961 he told
Sports Illustrated's Gilbert Rogin, "Boxing is dying because everybody's so quiet....
What boxing needs is more ... Clays." Ali knew that his rhymes and press-grabbing
claims would infuse more interest and more money into the sport of boxing, and
he was his own best public relations man. In February of 1964 he told readers of
Sports Illustrated, "If I were like a lot of ... heavyweight boxers ... you wouldn't
be reading this story right now. If you wonder what the difference between them
and me is, I'll break the news: you never heard of them. I'm not saying they're not
good boxers. Most of them ... can fight almost as good as I can. I'm just saying you
never heard of them. And the reason for that is because they cannot throw the jive.
Cassius Clay is a boxer who can throw the jive better than anybody."

The following month Ali--then still Cassius Clay--fought Sonny Liston in a match of
classic contenders for the heavyweight championship of the world. The Miami fight
almost single-handedly restored intelligence and balance to boxing. Cassius Clay
had been chanting the war cry "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" for weeks; he
beat Liston in a display of beautiful, controlled boxing. Liston could hit with deadly
power, but Ali utilized his skills and courage with forethought and aplomb. He won
the fight to become heavyweight champion of the world. At the tender age of 22 Ali
knew that he was something above and beyond a great boxer: He had marketing
sense, political finesse, and a feeling of noble purpose.

Throughout his career and life, Ali has always professed to want to help other black
Americans--and he has, time and time again. When he returned from Italy, having
just won an Olympic gold medal, he was so proud of his trophy that he wore it
day and night and showed it to everyone, whether they wanted to see it or not.
In the Philadelphia Inquirer Ali's first wife remembered him saying "I was young,

black Cassius Marcellus Clay, who had won a gold medal for his country. I went to
downtown Louisville to a five-and-dime store that had a soda fountain. I sat down
at the counter to order a burger and soda pop. The waitress looked at me.... 'Sorry,
we don't serve coloreds,' she said. I was furious. I went all the way to Italy to
represent my country, won a gold medal, and now I come back to America and
can't even get served at a five-and-dime store. I went to a bridge, tore the medal
off my neck and threw it into the river. That gold medal didn't mean a thing to me
if my black brothers and sisters were treated wrong in a country I was supposed to

While in Miami, at the age of 21, Ali was inspired by human rights activist Malcolm
X to become a member of the Muslim faith. The following year Malcolm X said of
Ali, as was quoted by Houston Horn in Sports Illustrated, "[He] will mean more
to his people than any athlete before him. He is more than [first black major-
league baseball player] Jackie Robinson was, because Robinson is the white man's
hero. But Cassius is the black man's hero. Do you know why? Because the white
press wanted him to lose [his heavyweight championship bout] ... because he is
a Muslim. You notice nobody cares about the religion of other athletes. But their
prejudice against Clay blinded them to his ability." Twelve years later, on Face
The Nation, Ali said "We don't have Black Muslims, that's a press word. We have
white brothers, we have brown, red, and yellow, all colors can be Muslims.... I'm
looking for peace one day with all people." Cassius Clay, Jr., was given the name
Muhammad Ali by Muslim patriarch Elijah Muhammad; it was not just a name, but a
title meaning "beloved of Allah," deity of the Muslim faith.

Ali retained his world heavyweight champion title in June of 1965 by again knocking
out Sonny Liston, this time with a stunning right-hand punch to the side of the
head. The knock-out blow was thrown with the astounding speed that separated Ali
from other heavyweights; it had sufficient force to lift Liston's left foot-- upon which
most of his weight was resting--clear off the canvas.

As a Muslim and thus, a conscientious objector, Muhammad Ali refused to even
consider going to Vietnam in 1966; a tremendous public outcry erupted against
him. According to Jack Olsen in Sports Illustrated, "The governor of Illinois found
Clay 'disgusting,' and the governor of Maine said Clay 'should be held in utter
contempt by every patriotic American.' An American Legion post in Miami asked
people to 'join in condemnation of this unpatriotic, loudmouthed, bombastic
individual.' The Chicago Tribune waged a choleric campaign against holding the
next Clay fight in Chicago.... The noise became a din, the drumbeats of a holy war.
TV and radio commentators, little old ladies ... bookmakers, and parish priests,
armchair strategists at the Pentagon and politicians all over the place joined in a
crescendo of get-Cassius clamor."

Although Ali had not been charged or arrested for violating the Selective
Service Act--much less convicted--the New York State Athletic Commission and
World Boxing Association suspended his boxing license and stripped him of his
heavyweight title in May of 1967, minutes after he officially announced that he
would not submit to induction. Ali said to Sports Illustrated contributor Edwin
Shrake, "I'm giving up my title, my wealth, maybe my future. Many great men
have been tested for their religious beliefs. If I pass this test, I'll come out stronger

than ever." Eventually Ali was sentenced to five years in prison, released on appeal,
and his conviction overturned three years later.

In November of 1970 Ali fought Jerry Quarry in Atlanta. His victory was a symbol
of release and freedom to the 5,000 people watching the fight; Ali had personally
survived his vilification by much of the American public, but more, he had reclaimed
his professional reputation and prominence. Four months later Ali had the world as
his audience when he went up against Joe Frazier in New York. There he fell from
invincibility; suddenly Frazier reigned as heavyweight champ. "Man, I hit him with
punches that'd bring down the walls of a city," Frazier said to Mark Kram in Sports
Illustrated. Ali responded, "It was like death. Closest thing to dyin' that I know of."
Ali regained his title as world heavyweight champion in 1974 after defeating George
Foreman in a bout staged in Zaire. Ali fought Frazier twice more, once in 1974 and
again in 1975. Ali won both matches and secured his title. Taking time to reflect
on the tumult of his fifteen-year boxing career, Ali co-wrote his autobiography--
characteristically titled The Greatest--My Own Story--in 1975.

In 1982 Dr. Dennis Cope, director of the Medical Ambulatory Care Center at the
University of California, Los Angeles, began treating Ali for Parkinson's syndrome;
Cope and colleague Dr. Stanley Fahn later theorized in the Chicago Tribune
that Ali was suffering, more precisely, from Pugilistic Parkinsonism, brought
on by repetitive trauma to the head--and that only an autopsy could confirm
their suspicions. After losing a 1980 title bout to Larry Holmes, Ali had exhibited
sluggishness and was misdiagnosed as having a thyroid condition; he was given
a thyroid hormone. When Dr. Cope made the connection between Ali's decreasing
motor skills and Parkinson's disease, he prescribed Sinemet (L-dopa). Ali was
shortly restored to his previous level of energy and awareness; as long as he
took his medication regularly, he was able to keep the disease in check. In 1988
Ali told New York Times Magazine contributor Peter Tauber: "I've got Parkinson's
syndrome. I'm in no pain.... If I was in perfect health--if I had won my last two
fights--if I had no problem, people would be afraid of me. Now they feel sorry for
me. They thought I was Superman. Now they can say 'He's human, like us. He has

In 1984 another of Ali's medical confidantes, Dr. Martin D. Ecker, ventured in the
Boston Globe that Ali should have quit boxing long before he finally did--for the
second and final time--in 1981 after losing to Trevor Berbick. His bout with Berbick
was his 61st and final fight. By then Ali had been showing signs of neurological
damage for over a year. Ali's former doctor, Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, told the fighter to
quit in 1977 when he first saw signs of Ali's reflexes slowing down. Seven years
later, Pacheco, a consultant and boxing commentator for NBC-TV, explained to
Betsy Lehman in the Boston Globe why he feels Ali didn't quit boxing in 1977: "The
most virulent infection in the human race is the standing ovation. Once you've
seen that, you can't get off the stage. Once you feel that recognition ... the roar of
50,000 people, you just don't want to give it up." When Ali initially surrendered his
title in 1979, he was paid $250,000 to quit, but he eventually returned to his sport,
perhaps as Pacheco suggested, because the recognition had become habit-forming.

Toward the end of Ali's boxing career, and afterward, his ambitions took a decided
turn toward statesmanship. In 1980 he cast his lot with the Democratic Party,

supporting then-Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter. In August of that year, while
in intense training for the Holmes fight, he found time to work the floor of the
Democratic National Convention in New York City. He also functioned as something
of a diplomat in February of 1985 when he attempted to secure the release of four
kidnapped Americans in Lebanon; unfortunately, he and his three advisers were not

During his career in the ring Ali made more than $50 million, two thirds of wwent
to managerial expenses and taxes. He said to New York Times Magazine contributor
Tauber in 1988, "I never talk about boxing. It just served its purpose. I was only
about 11 or 12 years old when I said 'I'm gonna get famous so I can help my
people.'" Indicating his continuing desire to help people, in 1990 Ali visited Our
Children's Foundation, Inc., on Manhattan's 125th Street. According to Bill Gallo in
the New York Daily News, he addressed the children there, saying, "The sun has a
purpose. The moon has a purpose. The snow has a purpose. Cows have a purpose.
You were born for a purpose. You have to find your purpose. Go to school. Learn
to read and write.... What is your purpose, your occupation? Find your purpose....
What do you have to find?" "Purpose!," they shouted gleefully in unison. True to
form, one of Ali's favored inscriptions when signing autographs is "Love is the net
where hearts are caught like fish."

Although Parkinson's syndrome has slowed Ali down, he still remain active--raising
money for the Muhammad Ali Foundation and frequently appearing at sports
tributes and fund-raisers. Muhammad's wife Lonnie believes "Muhammad knows he
has this illness for a reason. It's not by chance. Parkinson's disease has made him
a more spiritual person. Muhammad believes God gave it to him to bring him to
another level, to create another destiny." she stated in People.

During the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, 3.5 billion people watched on television
as three-time heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali slowly ascended the stadium
steps with trembling hands to ignite the Olympic Flame. Everyone was deeply
touched, however, No one was more moved than Ali himself. "He kept turning it
[the torch] in his hands and looking at it. He knows now that people won't slight his
message because of his impairment." said his wife Lonnie in People.

Muhammad has been blessed to meet with important dignitaries, including with
President Clinton, Queen Elizabeth II, Nelson Mandela, and Pope John Paul II.
His travels are his main source of income--charging as much as $200,000 for
appearances. He usually travels 275 days out of the year. Although he enjoys his
missionary work and public appearances, Ali's greatest pleasure is when he is at
home in Berrien Springs, Michigan with his family--wife Yolanda and his adopted
son Asaad Amin.

In Berrien Springs, he lives a modest life in a house at the end of the road on an
old farm. He has a pool and a pond and a security gate with an intercom. According
to Kim Forburger, Ali's assistant, "He's the only man I know where the kids come to
the gate and say 'Can Muhammad come out and play?'

When asked if he has any regrets, Ali responds, "My children, I never got to raise
them because I was always boxing and because of divorce," he said in People.
When asked whether he is sorry he ever got into the ring, he responded, "If I

wasn't a boxer, I wouldn't be famous. If I wasn't famous, I wouldn't be able to do
what I'm doing now."