Film Shows Soft Side of Muhammad Ali

08 June, 2016

The world is remembering Muhammad Ali, a man who transcended sports, culture and religion to become a worldwide icon.

"I Am Ali" is a 2014 documentary film by Clare Lewis. It used audio tapes he recorded with family and friends to provide an inside look at the boxing star.

"My father has a lot of sides and you hear about the fights. You don't hear about family that much, and what that meant to him."

That is Muhammad Ali's daughter, Maryum Ali.

"What's your daddy's name?"

"Muhammad Ali!!"

Few people knew of the existence of these audio tapes until the documentary was being made.



"You're now 11 years old."

The recordings capture personal moments of the boxing champion's life. Ali's daughter Hana offered the tapes to filmmaker Clare Lewis who used them in the documentary.

"My father was always conscious about history and, you know, I think that's one of the reasons why he made this series of audiotape cassette recordings.'"

"Say, 'Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.' "

Chorus: "'Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee."

The film shows the whole world in love with Ali. Statements from his friends and opponents paint the Olympic champion as a sensitive, touching and courageous man.

His birth name was Cassius Clay. He converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. Ali refused to serve in the Vietnam War, the major American conflict of his time, because of his religious beliefs.

As a result, boxing officials withdrew his championship title. He was barred from the profession as well. His close friend, former football player Jim Brown, remembers.

"He had a lot of courage. The risk he had to take and to be isolated to have his crown taken away, not be able to make a living, that was difficult."

But Ali held firmly to his beliefs and in 1974, at the age of 32, he made a comeback.

"When George Foreman meets me, he'll pay his debt. I can drown a drink of water and kill a dead tree, wait till you see Muhammad Ali."

He defeated then-heavyweight champion George Foreman, and recaptured his title.

"I get into the ring with the guy. I bluffed him, I've done everything. Beat him up, basically for about five or six rounds. I thought it was easy. Then about the sixth round he whispered in my ear after I hit him in the side, 'That all you got, George?' And that was about all I had!"

"I Am Ali" does not deal very much with the boxer's failed marriages. Instead, it highlights his bond with his children.

"I was the Concorde of boxing. I was in higher altitude than the rest, moving faster than the rest ..."

As he ages, we hear the once eloquent Muhammad Ali begin to slur his words, a sign of his developing Parkinson's disease. He finally retired in the late 1970s. In the middle 1980s, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's.

But to the world and his children, Ali remained a symbol of power and grace.

"If anyone wonder why, me, Muhammad Ali, is making these tapes, it is because history is so beautiful."

I'm Marsha James.

Penelope Poulou wrote this report for VOA News. Caty Weaver adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Words in This Story

transcend - v. to rise above or go beyond the normal limits of (something)

icon - n. a person who is very successful and admired

comeback - n. a return to a former good position or condition

bluff - v. to pretend that you will do something or that you know or have something in order to trick someone into doing what you want

highlight - v. to direct attention to (someone or something)

eloquent - adj. having or showing the ability to use language clearly and effectively

slur - v. to pronounce words in an unclear way