“I’m the greatest, I’m a bad man, and I’m pretty!”
I wonder if millennials comprehend the depth of fame we came to know in Muhammed Ali. Self-proclaimed “The Greatest,” he was arguably the best known human being on the planet 40 years ago. Ali passed away on Friday at age 74, and rather than repeat the same content from the hundreds of obituaries and tributes we’ve seen, suffice to say that the popular pugilist (boxer) was as well-known as Michael Jackson was in the 1980s or Beyonce is today.
Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote about fame as it’s framed in my summer class, “Pop, Rock and Public Relations.” The course is examining how music’s biggest celebrities have used their famous faces to bring attention to a cause, fight a disease, or help the less fortunate. A shameless self-promoter who backed up his own bravado with the most successful heavyweight boxing career in history, Muhammed Ali was truly an example of how his fights in the ring allowed him to use his fame to fight for causes in which he believed. According to looktothestars.com, an outstanding website listing hundreds of celebrities and the causes they support, Ali “devoted his life to helping promote world peace, civil rights, cross-cultural understanding, interfaith relations, humanitarianism, hunger relief, and the commonality of basic human values…He has visited countless numbers of soup kitchens and hospitals, and helped organizations including the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Special Olympics.”
It was a long battle with Parkinson’s disease that led to Ali’s death; it was diagnosed in 1984 at age 42. His work with fellow sufferer Michael J. Fox (watch their PSA) and others helped to establish the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona.
Muhammed Ali once said, “I’ve always wanted to be more than just a boxer. More than just the three-time heavyweight champion. I wanted to use my fame, and this face that everyone knows so well, to help uplift and inspire people around the world.” For this as well as his pugilistic achievements, the world is a better place. Your thoughts?