The legacy and strength of Muhammad Ali lived on in the touching words of his admirers, friends and family members in Louisville, Ky., during his memorial service on Friday (June 10.)
Over 15, 000 people were present at the KFC Yum Center in downtown Louisville to pay their respects to the humanitarian and beloved athlete. Years prior, Ali put together his own service and handpicked those who spoke at the memorial–Billy Crystal, Bryant Gumbel, Rabbi Michael Lerner and former president Bill Clinton– shared stories of joy, love and admiration they have for the greatest.
Fans watched the political, spiritual and passionate service that summed up Ali’s life mission online. Thousands of local fans also praised Ali as he was carried in a black Cadillac through his childhood home and through the street named after him.
Pallbearers included Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis and Will Smith, who portrayed him in the Oscar-nominated film, Ali.
Check out a few eulogies from the memorial, including the tear-jerking words of Attallah Shabazz, below.
Billy Crystal, Comedian
On their 42 year friendship: “I couldn’t believe it, my first time on TV and it was with Ali,” he said referring to his infamous impersonation of the athlete. “I couldn’t stop looking at him…. He was funny, he was beautiful…. He was so much more than a fighter.” After the skit, Ali called Crystal, his little brother. “Here’s the most famous Muslim man in the world, honoring his Jewish friend,” he added. “I had so many funny moments with him. On the moment of impact, it lights up everything around it. His intense light shined on America. We were able to see clearly injustice…. Ali forced us to take a look at ourselves. He is gone, but he will never die, he was my big brother.”
Lonnie Ali, widow of Muhammad Ali
On what Ali wanted the world to learn from his life: “Muhammad indicated that when the end came for him, he wanted us to use his life and his death as a teaching moment for young people, for his country and for the world,” she said. “In effect, he wanted us to remind people who are suffering that he had seen the face of injustice. That he grew up in a segregation, and that during his early life he was not free to be who he wanted to be. But he never became embittered enough to quit or to engage in violence. It was a time when a young black boy his age could be hung from a tree. Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi, in 1955, whose admitted killers went free. It was a time when Muhammad’s friends, men that he admired, like brother Malcolm, Dr. King, were gunned down, and Nelson Mandela imprisoned for what they believed in. For his part, Muhammad faced federal prosecution. He was stripped of his title and his license to box, and he was sentenced to prison. But he would not be intimidated so as to abandon his principles and his values.”
Natasha Mundkur, Council Member at the Muhammad Ali Center
On what she’s learned from Ali: “His voice echoed through through hers, through mine and she picked up the rocks that were thrown at her and she threw them back with a voice so powerful, that it turned that pain she felt in her life into strength and tenacity,” she said. The 19-year-old was inspired by Ali after learning about him in school. She also learned to be strong after she was bullied for her race and religion. “And, now that 8-year-old girl stands in front of you that Ali’s cries still shakes those waves today. We are to find strength in our identities. Whether we are black or white, Asian or Hispanic, LGBT, disabled or abled bodied. Muslim or Jewish, Hindu or Christian, his cries represents those who have not been heard and it validates that idea that we are to be conformed into one normative standard. That is what it means to defeat the impossible. Impossible is not a fact, nor an opinion, impossible is nothing”
Attallah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X
On Ali’s legacy: “Muhammad Ali was part of a treasured fraternity, bequeathed to me by my dad,” she said. She also shared Ali’s grief, who didn’t get to speak to Malcolm before his death. “A unifying topic was faith; an ecumenical faith, respect for all faiths, even if belonging to one religion or none, the gift of all faiths. He said: “We all have the one God. We just serve him differently. Rivers, lakes, plains, they all have different names – but they mean the same thing. Doesn’t matter if you are a Muslim or Christian or Jew – when you believe in God, you should believe all people are part of one family. Because if you love God, you can’t love only some of his children.“ Having Muhammad Ali in my life somehow sustained my dad’s breath in me – 51 years longer. Until now.”
Bill Clinton, 42nd President of the United States
On Ali’s mission to never be disempowered: “Finally after all the years that we have been friends, my enduring image of him is like a little reel in three shots: the boxer I thrilled to as a boy, the man I watched take the last steps to light the Olympic Flame when I was president, and I’ll never forget it, I was sitting there in Atlanta, by then we knew each other, by then I felt that I had some sense of what he was living with, and I was still weeping like a baby, seeing his hands shake and his legs shake and knowing by God he was gonna make those last few steps, no matter what it took, the flame would be lit the fight would be won the spirit would be affirmed, I knew it would happen. And then this. The children whose lives he touched. The young people he inspired. It’s the most important thing of all.”