Muhammad Ali buried after emotional final journey

Family, politicians, celebrities share memories of 'The Greatest'. Thousands of fans line up in Louisville as funeral procession takes same route as parade to celebrate his Olympic gold medal.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Well-wishers touch the hearse carrying the body of the late boxing champion Muhammad Ali during his funeral procession through Louisville, Kentucky, US, June 10, 2016.

Updated Jun 11, 2016

The Greatest was laid to rest on Friday after a final journey through his hometown Louisville, Kentucky. 

World leaders, celebrities, family members, boxing fans and admirers of Muhammad Ali gathered for one last goodbye to the legendary heavyweight boxing champion, civil rights activist and poet. Ali struggled with Parkinson's for nearly three decades and died of sepsis on June 3 at the age of 74.

People lined the streets of Louisville for the funeral procession, which started at 9:00am (1300 GMT) and followed the same 30 kilometre (18 miles) route as the parade celebrating his Olympic gold medal in 1960. 

The hearse carrying the body of Muhammad Ali leaves the AD Porter & Sons funeral home during the funeral procession in Louisville, Kentucky in US, June 10, 2016.

After the burial, the public memorial service at KFC Yum Centre started an hour later than the expected 2:00pm (1800 GMT), according to The Guardian. More than 15,000 people in all were at the large sporting arena. 

Mourners crowd the venue for a public memorial service for the late boxer Muhammad Ali in Louisville, Kentucky, US, June 10, 2016

The interfaith service featured eulogies by former US president Bill Clinton, comedian Billy Crystal, Ali's wife, his daughter and several multifaith leaders. 

The poignant memorial service began with a Koranic verse. The recitation was by Imam Hamzah Abdul Malik in accordance with the boxer's wishes. Ali worked with his family over the past few years to plan his last rites, making it inclusive, diverse and accessible. 

Hamzah Abdul Malik gives a Quranic recitation at the memorial service for Muhammad Ali in Louisville, Kentucky, US, June 10, 2016.

Senior pastor Dr Kevin Cosby, who was one of the first speakers, touched on the civil rights movement out of which African-Americans emerged with a renewed sense of self.

"And then from Louisville, emerged a silver-tongued poet who took the ethos of somebody-ness to unheard-of heights. Before James Brown said 'I'm black and I'm proud, Muhammad Ali said, I'm black and I'm pretty'."

Clinton said, "We all have an Ali story. It's the gift we all have that should be most honoured today because he released them to the world."

He added, "Besides being a lot of fun to be around and basically a universal soldier for our common humanity, I will always think of Muhammad as a truly free man of faith."

US President Barack Obama was unable to make the trip because of daughter Malia's high school graduation. But White House adviser Valerie Jarrett read a letter from the president at the service in which Obama said Ali helped give him the audacity to think he could one day be president.

"Muhammad Ali was America. Brash. Defiant. Pioneering. Never tired. Always game to test the odds. He was our most basic freedoms: religion, speech, spirit," Obama said.

Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali

Ali, who was once scorned for converting to Islam and lost three years of his boxing career for refusing US military service during the Vietnam War, ended up becoming one of the most celebrated Americans in modern history, at home and abroad.

"What does it say of a man, any man, that he can go from being viewed as one of his country's most polarizing figures to arguably its most beloved?" sportscaster Bryant Gumbel told the service.

Crystal, who brought some levity to the proceedings with comic impressions and a few well-received jokes, called Ali "a tremendous bolt of lightning created by Mother Nature, the fantastic combination of power and beauty."

Actor Billy Crystal speaks at the memorial service for Muhammad Ali in Louisville, Kentucky, US, June 10, 2016.

Mourners chanted Ali's name as his wife Lonnie took the stage, her face obscured by her wide-brimmed black hat.

She reminded the crowd: "If Muhammad did not like the rules, he would rewrite them. His religion, his name, his beliefs, were his to fashion, no matter what the cost."

Rasheda Ali-Walsh, a daughter of Muhammad Ali, speaks at the memorial service for the late boxer in Louisville, Kentucky, US, June 10, 2016

Jordan's King Abdullah and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were expected to speak at service. However, Erdogan, who attended prayers for Ali on Thursday, cut short his visit and did not take part in Friday's event.

The last bout

The procession passed by Ali's childhood home, the Ali Center, the Center for African American Heritage—which focuses on the lives of blacks in Kentucky—and along Muhammad Ali Boulevard before arriving at his final resting place, Cave Hill Cemetery.

Spectators threw red roses and other flowers onto the hearse, blocking much of its windshield by the time it reached its destination. A fleet of limousines transporting Ali's family and close friends followed.

Momentos, including a pair of boxing gloves, lie at a makeshift memorial for Muhammad Ali outside the Muhammad Ali Center on June 8, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky in US.

Actor Will Smith—who earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Ali on the silver screen—and former heavyweight champions Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis served as pallbearers.

Ali's body was laid to rest in Cave Hill National Cemetery.

The heart of this city

"Muhammad Ali was the heart of this city – the living, breathing embodiment of the greatest that we can be," said Rabbi Joe Rapport, one of several representatives of diverse faiths asked to speak on Friday, echoing Ali's message of tolerance.

A woman photographs a mural of Muhammad Ali's 1965 victory over Sonny Liston June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky, US

On Thursday, the Islamic funeral for Ali drew thousands of mourners who prayed over his body.

"The passing of Muhammad Ali has made us all feel a little more alone in the world," said Sherman Jackson, a Muslim scholar at the University of Southern California.

"Something solid, something big, beautiful and life-affirming has left this world," he said.

Imam Zaid Shakir, a founder of Muslim liberal arts school Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California, led the funeral prayers.


Flower petals are seen on the ground as the hearse carrying the body of Muhammad Ali arrives at Cave Hill Cemetery.

Muhammad Ali's life at glance


TRTWorld and agencies