Muhammad Ali's 70th Birthday
The Celebration was held at the Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky was lively, even with 27 show segments over four hours. How could it be any other way when you have a celeb guest list, true luminaries, his closest friends and a bevy of entertainers from around the world?
I was honored to be part of 'Team Ali' for this incredible event.
Here’s an abbreviated blow by blow:
A heartfelt solo performance with John Mellencamp, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, musician, Farm Aid co-founder, painter, actor, and supporter of the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Arizona. It was a nice surprise to see Meg Ryan attending with Mellencamp.
David Foster, 16-time Grammy Award-winning musical artist extraordinaire and co-composer of Power of the Dream performed in the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Olympic Games where Ali famously lit the Olympic torch. Foster played quite a few of his favorites, tossing in a few related comedic zingers along the way. He also provided piano accompaniment for American Idol alums Michael Johns and Pia Toscano and then beckoned the Governor to the stage for an impromptu performance.
Sports figures: Ali’s longtime trainer, Angelo Dundee; University of Louisville coaches: Rick Pitino and Charlie Strong; University of Kentucky Coach John Calipari.
The most recent undisputed world heavyweight champion and Celebrity Apprentice contender Lennox Lewis also participated. We wrote a segment in the show for Lennox to lead the chefs in the procession of a special birthday cake to Muhammad. The talented and quick-on-his-feet emcee John Ramsey made mention that Lennox “would need to fight Ali to get a piece of that cake.”
Also in attendance were NBC news icons Matt Lauer, Ann Curry, and Bryant Gumbel; ESPN commentator Michael Wilbon; American hikers held in Iran: Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd. Ali lobbied for their release.
Las Vegas Magician Shimshi wowed the guests and especially Ali’s table, located front and center. Shimshi told me he once taught Muhammad a few tricks, since the champ has always loved magic.
Photographers Neil Leifer and Howard Bingham. Mr. Leifer followed Ali’s career from beginning to end and is generally considered the greatest sports photographer in history. See this 1966 Life Magazine image to see why. He placed a camera in the rafters of the Houston Astrodome and used a remote trigger while he was ringside get this shot of the canvas when the victorious Ali knocked out his competition.
Photographer Howard Bingham has had a lifelong friendship with Muhammad and served as his personal photo-biographer since the beginning. His collection of at least one million photos of Ali is perhaps the single largest documentary record of any one individual, ever.
Screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard, the man behind “Ali” starring Will Smith. With Ali listening intently, he read a passage from his essay published in the 600-page, 75 lb. coffee table book, Greatest of All Time, and wowed us all.
Academy Award-winning director Leon Gast. Mr. Gast won his award in 1996 for the Best Documentary Feature When We Were Kings, the film shot on location in Zaire circa 1974 showing the buildup to the Rumble in the Jungle heavyweight championship against Foreman. Mr. Gast presented a few select cuts of Ali’s days preceding this epic battle.
Video segments were interspersed throughout the evening including birthday wishes from seven different retired fighters and Bob Costas of NBC Sports. Costas was at his best as he recounted the emotions of the spectators (and himself) at the Olympics in 1996 when Muhammad Ali stepped out of the shadows to light the cauldron.
There were many more highlights and a wealth of birthday wishes made to the man who once said, “Old age is just a record of one’s whole life.” And what a life.
Visit the Ali Center to witness more. A special thanks to Jeanie Kahnke and the dedicated staff of the Muhammad Ali Center, Master of Ceremonies John Ramsey, Andy Dumas the boxing fitness coach with a flair for video and Leon Gast, who befriended me right away as he relayed his anticipation for attending Ali’s celebration, the man he says changed his life.
Ali's 70th Birthday Gallery
Ali's 70th Birthday Tribute Video
Filmed & Edited by Andy Dumas
Tribute to Angelo Dundee
Filmed & Edited by Andy Dumas
Thousands celebrate 'The Greatest's' birthday in his Kentucky hometown
Those gathered in Louisville chanted Ali, Ali... in a lobby of the Muhammad Ali Center as four days of festivities were launched last weekend, the man himself waving from a second-floor balcony.
Then he joined guests for a private party - one of five organised for him over the next two months - which doubled as a $1,000-per-person fundraiser for the Ali Center, a six-year-old cultural and education complex designed to be a legacy to his social activism, as well as a celebration of his career.
George Foreman, whose epic duel with Ali helped define both men's careers, told The Daily Telegraph that he believes that there should be a special day to celebrate his old foe's greatness.
There should be Muhammad Ali Day in America, because he will go down as one of the great American heroes, he said. Foreman was at the dinner, as was Ali's trainer Angelo Dundee and three American hikers, who were imprisoned in Iran. Ali, perhaps the most prominent US Muslim, had lobbied for their release.
Dundee, 91, who travelled from Clearwater, Florida, for the celebration, said he hears from Ali about once a month.
We're like family. We've always been family and we're always going to be family. He'll say: Angie, I want to come and train. That's what I miss the most. Being in the gym. Working up a sweat.
Lonnie said recently that the boxing great has mixed feelings about the landmark birthday. He's glad he's here to turn 70, but he wants to be reassured he doesnt look 70, she said.
Former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis said his boyhood idol is still the greatest. I feel so proud and honoured that we're able to show our feelings and show our support for him, Lewis said.
Lewis said Ali's strength and influence extended far beyond the boxing ring in his humanitarian efforts. What hes done outside the ring just the bravery, the poise, the feeling, the sacrifice, Lewis said He's truly a great man.