Ep. 12: The Final Round
This is it. The final round. Author Jonathan Eig stands among a crowd of thousands to say goodbye to the man who shook up the world. This is the funeral for the World’s Greatest, and the end of Chasing Ali.
I spent four years chasing Ali. Researching, writing his biography, desperately trying to meet him. I still hoped I would get to meet him one day, even though I knew his health was failing. Then, one Friday morning, I got call from the Wall Street Journal. They said it looked as though Ali was in his final hours, and asked me to prepare Ali’s obituary. It was an eerie feeling, knowing he was still alive, knowing it was looking grim, and hoping for him to pull through. Muhammad Ali died June 3, 2016.
I went to his funeral in Louisville. Lonnie put me on the VIP list, and I was able to get a press pass as a writer for the WSJ. I saw people I had interviewed--the people closest to Ali--and masses of people whose lives were touched by Ali. Some people had driven from Detroit to Louisville. From South Carolina. From upstate New York. Tens of thousands of people lined the streets. Is there any other figure that would receive that kind of outpouring of love?
I spent the day following Gene Kilroy around. He went everywhere, and we ended up in the Ali family’s private room. I found Lonnie, and showed her a card Lola had made for her on orange construction paper. We hugged, and I left her with her family.
The service lasted about three hours. There were dignitaries there among the masses, and it felt reminiscent of a state funeral. This was a man who captured the spirit of the 20th century better than anyone else. He challenged us to think about who we are, what it means to be black in America, what it means to be strong. He was a rare, exceptional man, and the world is better for having known him.
Learn more about Muhammad Ali's life and legacy in Eig's book: "ALI: A Life." Preorder your copy via the link below.