Today is Muhammad Ali’s 70th birthday. The recent years have not been kind to the former Undisputed Heavyweight Champion Of The World, who once was the most famous man in the world, known on every continent and in every nation.
During Ali’s prime in the ’60s, he became the greatest celebrity athlete of the television age. Tall, handsome, and sculpted, Ali was glib, funny, and immensely quotable, whether he was verbally sparring with Howard Cosell or taunting Joe Frazier or explaining why he would not go to fight in Vietnam. The camera absolutely loved him. And his performance backed up his talk. Anyone who recalls Ali wheeling around the ring, lurking and looking for an opening, and then springing forward and launching lightning-quick combinations at his opponent’s head will never forget the sight. How could you not admire the guy? He was — and I don’t use this word lightly — awesome.
Now Ali is suffering the ravages of age, Parkinson’s Disease, and a few too many punches in a ring career that lasted a few bouts too long. It is difficult to see this frail older gentleman when the mental images of his youth remain so very sharp.
For those of us who revered him in our youth, however, there is a deeper aspect to Ali’s current condition. If age can do this to a man like Muhammad Ali, we think, what chance do we mere mortals have?