Highlights from the Muhammad Ali memorial service

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Friday’s memorial service began with religious and faith leaders, and ended with eulogies from family and friends. It was long — about three hours — but there were moving tributes and remembrances throughout the service.

1. Lonnie Ali

Muhammad Ali’s widow spoke eloquently of her husband’s strength of character and the inspiration his life might be to others.

“Muhammad may have challenged his government, but he never ran from it, or from America. He loved this country and he understood the hard choices that are borne of freedom. I think he saw a nation’s soul measured by the soul of its people.”

2. Rasheda Ali-Walsh

Ali-Walsh smiled, and made her family smile, with an endearing tribute to her father. Just as he shook up the world in life, she said, he’s still shaking it up in death.

“Daddy’s looking at us now, right? And saying, ‘I told you I was the greatest!’ No one compares to you, Daddy.”


3. Billy Crystal

Comedian and longtime friend Billy Crystal said the first time he met the Champ was in 1974, when he was just getting started as a stand-up comedian and was asked to perform at an event honoring Ali. After finishing his routine, Ali gave him a nickname he’d keep for the rest of his life: “Little brother.”

4. President Bill Clinton

The final speaker at the memorial service, Clinton remembered Ali’s humor, intelligence, natural gifts and determination “to write his own life story.” He also drew big applause recalling Ali’s lighting of the Olympic torch in Atlanta in 1996, “seeing his hands shake and his legs shake and knowing, by God, he was going to make those last few steps, no matter what it took — the flame would be lit, the fight would be won, his spirit would be affirmed.”

5. Rabbi Michael Lerner

Among the religious leaders who spoke was Lerner, a political activist and editor of a progressive Jewish magazine. His remarks were the most political of the afternoon.

“The way to honor Muhammad Ali is to be Muhammad Ali today. That means us, everyone here and everyone listening. It’s up to us to continue that ability to speak truth to power. We must speak out, refuse to follow the path of conformity to the rules of the game in life.”

6. Attallah Shabazz

The eldest daughter of Malcolm X, Attallah Shabazz came close to tears recalling the man who was the last close connection she had to her father. The two men were trusted friends, she said. And though Malcolm X was 16 years older, he still called Ali his “little brother.”

7. Rev. Kevin Cosby

The Rev. Kevin Cosby, pastor at St. Stephen Church in Louisville and president of Simmons College of Kentucky, spoke about Ali’s importance in the growth of black pride in the years after Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis, Jesse Lewis and Rosa Parks. Ali took the idea of “somebody-ness to unheard-of heights,” he said. “Before James Brown said, ‘I’m black and I’m proud,’ Muhammad Ali said, ‘I’m black and I’m pretty.'”