Ali, 65, nobody to feel sorry for

Associated Press
Muhammad Ali: Former heavyweight champion's mind is still sharp but his body is visibly effected by Parkinson's disease.

The images are unsettling at best, upsetting at worst. The world, after all, remembers what he once was.

 

Muhammad Ali trembles and has to be wheeled to a ringside spot to watch his daughter fight in New York. A frail Ali needs to be supported by basketball player Dwayne Wade at the Orange Bowl in Miami.

The voice that once bellowed that he was "The Greatest" is but a whisper now, and he communicates mostly with facial expressions.

His body is ravaged by Parkinson's disease and the effects of recent spinal surgery. He tires easily. His mind, though, remains sharp and clear, and his passion for people hasn't faded with age.

Ali turns 65 today. The heavyweight champion who shocked the world is a senior citizen now, eligible to collect Social Security.

Like many other retirees, he has moved from Michigan to the desert to be out of the cold.

Visitors to the home in a gated area of Scottsdale, Ariz., that he shares with his fourth wife, Lonnie, often find him absorbed in the past, watching films of his fights and documentaries on his life - and Elvis movies.

Even more, he loves to watch himself talk.

"Muhammad is a little sentimental. He likes looking at older things. He likes watching some of the interviews and saying some of the crazy outrageous things he used to say," Lonnie Ali said. "Sometimes I think he looks at it and says, 'Is that me? Did I really say those things?'"

Those were the days when Ali still floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, when he added to his legend by defying the odds to beat George Foreman in Zaire and Joe Frazier in the Philippines.

"Rumble young man, rumble," cornerman Bundini Brown would yell to him.

That young man's face is now distorted by Parkinson's, making him look far older than he is. Now, instead of the "Ali Shuffle" that once dazzled the boxing world, he is reduced to sometimes using a walker, the result of surgery to help correct spinal stenosis, the narrowing of the spinal canal.

Some days are better than others. Ali reads fan mail every now and then and painstakingly signs autographs with his trembling hand.

Sometimes, mostly in the morning before his medication kicks in, the family can understand every word he says.

One of his daughters, Hana, says no one should feel sorry for him.

"People naturally are going to be sad to see the effects of his disease," she said.

"But if they could really see him in the calm of his everyday life, they would not be sorry for him. He's at complete peace, and he's here learning a greater lesson."

 

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