Muhammad Ali Celebrates Birthday
by Cesca Janece Waterfield
This month, Muhammad Ali will celebrate his 69th birthday. Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. in Louisville, KY, on Jan. 17, 1942, Ali endured the racism that African Americans widely faced during this era. He discovered his athletic talent at the age of 12, when his bike was stolen. The police officer young Ali talked to happened to train boxers at an area gym.
Chosen for the 1960 Summer Olympic Team, Ali won a gold medal as an amateur light heavyweight in Rome. Shortly after winning his first title in a bout with Sonny Liston in 1964, Ali joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name. Three years later, he refused the draft as a conscientious objector. Found guilty of draft evasion, his boxing license was suspended and he was stripped of his title. But when his appeal reached the Supreme Court nearly four years later, his case was victorious.
Ali became as famous for his trash talk as he was for his unconventional fighting style, which he described as “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” With rhymes and memorable quips, he derided opponents on TV and in person before matches. He became heavyweight champion of the world again when he defeated George Foreman. Then in 1975, he won a bout with Joe Frazier in a match that lasted for more than 14 rounds.
But as the 80s approached, Ali’s career began to decline. He announced his retirement in 1981 after losing a bout to Trevor Berbick. Then three years later, he announced that he had Parkinson’s disease, a serious neurological condition.
Ali has responded to his illness with philanthropic action. He hosts an Annual Celebrity Fight Night Awards to benefit the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix, AZ. In 1999, he was named “Sportsman of the Century” by Sports Illustrated; the same year the BBC named him “Sports Personality of the Century.” He opened the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville in 2005.
Fathead, maker of officially licensed sports and entertainment graphics, recently launched new murals of Ali, including a photo shot by underwater photography pioneer Flip Schulke. Also included in the collection, three works of pop culture photographer, Joe Petruccio, that captured The Champ in all his “Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Bee” glory. The murals feature an adhesive backing that enables them to be moved with no damage to the surface.