LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The star-studded memorial service for Muhammad Ali on Friday ended with a moment of silence and a closing prayer. His family walked slowly out of the building and is headed for a private ceremony at the Muhammad Ali Center a few blocks away.
Former President Bill Clinton has closed out the memorial service to Ali by calling him a “man of faith” who took “perfect gifts we all have” and released them to the world.
“Being a man of faith, he realized he would never be in full control of his life. Something like Parkinson’s could come along,” Clinton said. “But being free, he realized that life was filled with multiple choices. It is the choices that Muhammad Ali made are what brought us all here today.”
Clinton noted that Ali never felt self-pity because of the Parkinson’s disease he battled for three decades, and said he continued to give himself to the world as “a universal soldier for our common humanity” long after his diagnosis.
“I think Ali decided at a very young age to write his own story,” Clinton said. “He never got credit for being as smart as he was.”
TV journalist Bryant Gumbel said Ali went from being one of the most polarizing figures to one of the most beloved.
And, Gumbel says, he did it without changing his nature or compromising his principles.
“He gave us levels of strength and courage we didn’t even know we had. Hating people of color is wrong, Ali said, and it doesn’t matter who does the hate. It’s just plain wrong.”
Gumbel lamented that the three-time heavyweight champion had finally gone down.
“And for once he won’t get up. Not this time. He is down.”
Billy Crystal drew fast laughs when he took to the stage at Muhammad Ali’s memorial service.
“We’re at the halfway point,” he joked. The memorial had been underway at that point for more than 2½ hours after a morning full of remembrances.
He joked that he was clean shaven when the day’s activities began.
Crystal cracked everyone up with his career-making impersonation of a boastful, fast-talking Ali — and his imitation of Ali’s foil, sportscaster Howard Cosell — and rhapsodized about Ali’s charisma, outspokenness and talent.
He called the boxing great “a tremendous bolt of lightning, created by Mother Nature out of thin air, a fantastic combination of power and beauty.
“We’ve seen still photographs of lightning at the moment of impact, ferocious in its strength, magnificent in its elegance. And at the moment of impact it lights up everything around it so you can see everything clearly. Muhammad Ali struck us in the middle of America’s darkest night.”
“Ali forced us to take a look at ourselves. This brash young man thrilled us, angered us, confused us, challenged us, ultimately became a silent messenger of peace and taught us that life is best when you build bridges between people and not walls.”
Muhammad Ali’s widow, Lonnie Ali, in her first public remarks since his death, talked about how Ali wanted to be remembered after his passing.
“Muhammad indicated that when the end came for him, he wanted to use his life and his death as a teaching moment. He wanted to remind people who are suffering that he had seen the face of injustice,” she said. “He never became bitter enough to quit or engage in violence.”
She reminded those listening that his message still resonates. She says he was prepared to sacrifice all he had, all that he was, to follow his soul.
She also recalled the Louisville police officer who first taught a young Ali how to box when his bicycle was stolen when he was 12.
“Joe Martin handed young Cassius Clay the keys to a future in boxing he could scarcely have imagined.
“America must never forget that when a cop and an inner-city kid talk to each other, then miracles can happen,” she told the crowd to sustained applause.
Louisville police estimate that more than 100,000 people turned out for Muhammad Ali’s funeral procession in his hometown.