Ep. 6: “How Much You Gonna Pay Me?” - Rahman Ali

$1,000. That was Rahman Ali’s price for one answer about his older brother, Muhammad. Thankfully, Jonathan Eig’s persistence and connection with Ali’s manager, Gene Kilroy, earned him an interview with Rahman, and a closer look into the personal life of Muhammad Ali.

Khalilah wanted $6,000 for an interview. Ferdie Pacheco wanted $200. John Ali of the NOI wanted $1,500. I didn’t pay any of them. But I did manage to toss some cabbage to Ali’s brother, Rahman Ali. Is it OK to say toss some cabbage? Is that too Guys and Dolls?

Ali’s manager Gene Kilroy paid Ali’s brother to talk to me. Rahman's asking price was $1,000, but Gene got him to take $500. Rahman was a boxer, too. He fought on the undercard of Ali’s first championship fight, 1964 against Sonny Liston in Miami.

I found Rahman Ali living in public housing, scrounging for food. We spent hours at the kitchen table talking. His house was like a humble museum honoring Muhammad. Cassius Clay Sr., Ali's father, was a good painter. Rahman inherited some of that talent. I bought one of his paintings.

We drove around all of Ali's old hangouts. I saw the route Muhammad used to run to school. Rahman had short-term memory loss, but his long-term memory was great. He remembered the goldfish pond in their backyard, and the games they used to play in the street.

I offered to take Rahman and his wife to any restaurant they want. We drove for an hour until we found a $5.99 all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet called Asia House. I asked Rahman, "What was the hardest thing your brother endured? The brain damage? The Parkinson’s? Losing to Frazier? The ban from boxing?" Rahman said no, the hardest thing Ali ever endured was the divorce from his first wife, Sonji. The Nation of Islam made Ali divorce her. Ali never got over that.

Learn more about Muhammad Ali's younger years and family life in my book. Preorder your copy through the link below. 

PodcastJonathan Eig