Today would have been the 77th birthday of legendary boxer and civil rights leader Muhammad Ali. New-York Historical has a legacy of interpreting Ali’s life, both on an ongoing basis through our Time Inc. Archive as well as through two specific exhibitions in 2017—“I Am King of the World”: Photographs of Muhammad Ali by George Kalinsky and Muhammad Ali, LeRoy Neiman, and the Art of Boxing. The Time Inc. Archive includes a trove of documents and objects related to the self-proclaimed “Greatest of All Time,” including a pair of his boxing gloves and one of his robes.
To celebrate his birthday, we’re sharing an interview we had the joy of conducting with his daughter, Rasheda Ali, who was a special guest speaker at a screening of the film I Am Ali at the Museum in January 2017. Read on and find a moment to celebrate Ali’s life and legacy today. Happy birthday, Muhammad Ali!
DiMenna Children’s History Museum: You are the daughter of legendary athlete and activist Muhammad Ali. What’s one thing that’s amazing about being his daughter? And what’s one thing that is challenging?
Rasheda Ali: Being Muhammad Ali’s daughter has been a blessing but has its challenges. However, the blessings far outweigh the challenges. We understood at a very young age that we had to share our dad with the world. We didn’t see him as often as we would have wished, but he was not just our champion—he was the world’s champion. Dad helped all who came his way and didn’t miss an opportunity to help raise funds for a cause or to merely bring a smile to a small child’s face.
DCHM: Why do you think families should see the film I Am Ali? What do you like about it?
RA: Families should see this film because for most of us who know a lot about Muhammad Ali—the boxer and the humanitarian—few have the opportunity to witness him as a caring father and a sensitive man who gave us advice about life and purpose. Family was one of the most important factors to my father. It is the close bond we have with each other that has ultimately made us not only stronger while coping with the challenges of Parkinson’s Disease [from which Muhammad Ali suffered] but also more compassionate as adults. The true message for all families to take with them when they view this film is that nothing is more important than the close bond and unconditional love of family and how its power conquers all.
DCHM: You wrote the book I’ll Hold Your Hand So You Won’t Fall – A Child’s Guide to Parkinson’s Disease. What inspired you to write this book?
RA: My children asked me questions about their grandpa and his progressing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (such as slurred speech and tremors) which I did not know how to answer because I was used to the symptoms of Parkinson’s and grew up witnessing the effects of it but didn’t question them. My book not only helped me understand my dad and his behavior but also helped me learn a lot about myself.
DCHM: January 17, 2017, would have been your dad’s 75th birthday. Do you have a favorite memory from one of his birthdays?
RA: Dad’s 73rd birthday was my favorite. It was star-studded and everyone travelled to Las Vegas to not only celebrate his birthday but to donate to a great cause: Alzheimer’s research and other neurocognitive disorders at the Keep Memory Alive Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. That weekend, all of my sisters and brothers attended, and Dad and I laughed and tried on funny Halloween masks. I remember showing Dad a photo of the huge mural of his face promoting the event on the side of the MGM Grand Hotel, where the event took place. He was thrilled to be the center of attention that weekend. It will mark a time in history I will always cherish.
DCHM: What is the most important or surprising thing kids should know about your dad?
RA: When my dad was a young boy, he was a huge fan and admirer of Sugar Ray Robinson, who refused to give him an autograph. When my dad became a famous prizefighter, he vowed never to refuse anyone an autograph. Even when he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and it was a challenge to write, he never said no to a picture or an autograph.
Interview originally conduced January 2017
Top image: LeRoy Neiman. “Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston,” 1965. Courtesy LeRoy Neiman Foundation.