Thousands pay final tribute to Muhammad Ali in Louisville

Published 11.06.2016 00:00

World leaders, celebrities, boxing fans and people who admired Muhammad Ali as a man, all were set to gather on Friday in his Kentucky hometown for one last goodbye to a towering global figure, who died last Saturday evening aged 74.

Mourners were to line the streets of Louisville for a funeral procession that will take Ali's body to Cave Hill National Cemetery for a private burial.

Thousands of people were then set to fill the KFC Yum Center for a memorial featuring eulogies by former U.S. President Bill Clinton and comedian Billy Crystal.

Crystal could reprise parts of his routine called "15 Rounds," a tribute to the three-time heavyweight boxing champion that the comedian first delivered in 1979. In it, Crystal tells Ali's story through a masterful impersonation of the champ and the late sportscaster Howard Cosell, who was an important early defender of Ali during his most controversial days.

Pallbearers include actor Will Smith, who earned an Oscar nomination for playing the title role in the 2001 film "Ali," and former heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis. "Now as the world continues to flow into our city, it's time for us to send him off tomorrow with great class and dignity and respect," Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said at a news conference on Thursday.

The mayor encouraged people to throw flowers and bring "smiles and maybe a tear or two as well." The procession was set pass by Ali's boyhood home on the West End, traditionally an African-American section of town, and the Muhammad Ali Center, a museum in the center of the mid-sized city, which is also home to the Kentucky Derby.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was in Louisville for the memorial service for Muhammad Ali. The NBA's all-time scoring leader posted a photo of himself on Twitter standing in front of a makeshift memorial outside the Muhammad Ali Center, with the caption, "And so my day begins ..."

On Thursday, the Muslim funeral for Ali drew thousands of mourners who prayed over the body of a man who battled in the ring and sought peace outside it. Speakers referred to him as "the people's champ" who was praised for advancing the cause of black Americans during and after the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Others admired him for making Islam more acceptable and giving U.S. Muslims a hero they could share with mainstream America.

In memory of Ali, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wrote on Twitter: "May Allah have mercy on Muhammad Ali, whose courage, conviction and determination inspired all of humanity. Ali was an extraordinary athlete and a remarkable man of good deeds who conquered the hearts of millions. This boxing legend's life-long struggle against racism and discrimination will never be forgotten."

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