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Tribute to Muhammad Ali 1/17/42 – 6/3/16: float like a butterfly, sting like a bee

June 5, 2016

What I knew a week ago about Muhammad Ali I could write on the palm of my hand. I knew the song. I saw a few of the fights. I knew about rope a dope.

Art Predator's garage door by gauvin

Art Predator’s garage door by gauvin as displayed at the “doors” art show at Art City October 2014

And I had a portrait of Muhammad Ali on my garage door with the inscription “mess with the butterflies …mess with me” painted by gauvin for $200 for gas money to get to the Taos Poetry Circus.

And honestly, I had no idea I was going to have Muhammad Ali painted on the garage door.

But when it was done? I loved it. It totally made sense as I had planted a guerrilla garden on a vacant lot to provide food and shelter to birds and bees.

Following his death on Friday, I have been learning so much about Ali, and learning to respect what a great man he was.

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Ali applied for conscientious objector status: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong,” Ali told a reporter. “They ain’t never called me nigger.”

And now I have even more respect for the man on my garage door. Here’s some of what I’ve learned along with a tribute and a memory from Ron Wells.

 

Muhammad Ali born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016

 

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Credit: Neil Leifer / Sports Illustrated / Getty Images

 

Ron Wells writes:

There is little I can add to the words, pictures and descriptions of Muhammad Ali that have been seen and heard over the last few days and will continue into the far distant future.

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I can only my add my one little story that I once met Muhammad Ali. It was in June of 1991, at a book signing in Southern California for Thomas Hauser’s, Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times. My best friend and I arrived early, around 7:00 AM for the 11:00 AM signing and the line was already 30-40 people deep. By the time the signing started, the line stretched up and down every aisle of the store and out into the parking lot where it continued for what seemed like forever.

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The first thing that struck me was the huge cross section of society that was present. Men, women and children of every nationality imaginable were present and many different languages were being spoken. Ali was, indeed, the champion of the world.

When he arrived, a huge cheer went up that was quietly acknowledged by Muhammad Ali as he slowly walked in. At 6’ 3”, he seemed so much bigger than that. Like a mountain.

Book plates had been pre-signed because everyone knew that there would be far too many people present for Ali to sign everyone’s book. When it was my turn to have the bookplates placed in my books by him, it was his eyes that captivated me. They were fierce, soft, penetrating and kind. After he was done, I couldn’t say anything but, “Thank you.” He nodded and smiled while looking directly into my eyes as he shook my hand.

The line moved slowly as everyone wanted to have their picture taken with him, or just talk to him. Many people wanted to put up their fists and he stood and put his against theirs, with a look of anger on his face. It was hilarious. He went along with every request. He even did some simple magic tricks for the some of the children. There was nothing but joy, bordering on worship in that building. Even though my friend and I were near the front of the line, we stayed after until everyone had met the champ. Watching him interact with his fans was unlike anything I had ever seen before. The love that was showered on him, and was returned by the Greatest of All Time, was something to behold.

It was one of the very few times in my life where I felt I had stood in the presence of greatness. I will never forget that day.

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Jimmy Cannon, the most influential sportswriter since World War II, wrote that “Clay is part of the Beatle movement. He fits in with the famous singers no one can hear…and the boys with their long dirty hair and the girls with the unwashed look and the college kids dancing naked at secret proms held in apartments and the revolt of students who get a check from dad every first of the month.”

For me, it was captured perfectly by the greatest songwriter of our time. In Hauser’s book, Bob Dylan is quoted as saying of Muhammad Ali, “He served the world a banquet of dreams and opportunities, a mixed bag of attitudes and desires culminating in the fulfillment of hopes and aspirations of the young and old alike.”

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Today Bob Dylan’s website reads: “If the measure of greatness is to gladden the heart of every human being on the face of the earth, then truly he was the greatest. In every way he was the bravest, the kindest, and the most excellent of men.”

Yes, he was that: the most excellent of men. Rest in Peace, Muhammad Ali.

“I don’t know, but I’ll tell you how I’d like to be remembered: as a black man who won the heavyweight title and who was humorous and who treated everyone right. As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him and who helped as many of his people as he could– financially and also in their fight for freedom, justice and equality. As a man who wouldn’t hurt his people’s dignity by doing anything that would embarrass them. As a man who tried to unite his people through the faith of Islam that he found when he listened to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. And if all that’s asking too much, then I guess I’d settle for being remembered only as a great boxing champion who became a preacher and a champion of his people. And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was.”
-Muhammad Ali

 

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