Ep. 4: Meeting Muhammad Ali: Attempt One

Telling the life story of Muhammad Ali meant spending a lot of time with people who knew him. But what about meeting the man himself? Jonathan Eig knew it wasn’t going to be easy to get to Muhammad Ali, and time was running out.

My first try at meeting Ali came in February 2015. Why was it so important to meet him? I wanted to look him in the eye. I wanted to tell him I was writing this book. I wanted to be able to say I met him when people asked. I went to his big annual fundraiser, staked out the entrances and exits, and even wrangled access to the VIP lounge.

I attached myself by the hip with one of Ali’s best friends, David Jones, who met Ali around the time of the Norton Fight in San Diego, when Ali got his jaw broken in a shocking upset.

This is Ali at his laziest, taking his opponent for granted. Too many women, too many hangers-on. But to David Jones, Ali was a prince—not only the greatest but the kindest man he’d ever met. In Phoenix, I met Mini Me from Austin Powers, but Ali didn’t show.

I did talk to his wife, though. I got back home and wrote Lonnie a letter. My daughter inserted a letter of her own. I posted it on Instagram. You can see it. She wrote: “Dear Muhammad, Jonathan loves you. Do you love Jonathan?” I put it in the envelope. Figured it couldn’t hurt.

Learn more about Muhammad Ali's career and admirers in my book. Preorder your copy through the link below. 

PodcastJonathan Eig