Muhammad Ali Funeral: Thousands Gather in Louisville, Kentucky to Remember the Boxing Legend
By Alex Ungerman
Jan. 17, 1942 - June 3, 2016.
Thousands gathered in Muhammad Ali's hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, to remember the boxing legend, after his death earlier this month following a long battle with Parkinson's disease.
Will Smith -- who portrayed Ali in the 2001 eponymous biopic about the heavyweight champion's life -- was among those who showed up to pay their respects as he greeted fans through the window of his car. Smith also served as a pallbearer in the funeral service.
"My father had a big impact on his life," Laila Ali told ET of her father's impact on the actor. "He did a tremendous job playing that role, and he will forever be associated with my father, because as an actor, that's kind of a spiritual thing, playing Muhammad Ali -- and being able to do it so well. Channel that energy that he needed to bring to that role."
Preachers from different faiths and religions spoke at the procession, which also included eulogies from actor Billy Crystal and former president Bill Clinton, as well as close friends and family.
"America must never forget that when a cop and an inner city kid talk to each other, then miracles can happen," said Ali's widow, Lonnie. "Muhammad wants young people of every background to see his life as proof that adversity can make you stronger."
"Even in death, Muhammad has something to say," she added. "He is saying that his faith required that he take the more difficult road... To take up peace, instead of arms in pursuit of violence."
Speaking to what made the athlete truly beloved by many, Lonnie said, "Muhammad fell in love with the masses, and he fell in love with them. His passing and its meaning for our time should not be overlooked."
After Lonnie spoke, Ali's daughter, Maryum, took the stage to deliver words in remembrance of her father.
"Your kindness was unconditional, never perceiving anyone as beneath you," she said. "Your family is so proud of the legacy you left behind."
"As you enter your final round, God's last boxing bell will sound in heaven," Maryum added. "I love you, we all love you."
Rasheda Ali-Walsh, Ali’s daughter, also delivered kind words for her father, and thanked guests of the procession, saying, "We are so honored that you've packed this room with your love."
Outside of Ali's funeral, ET's Nischelle Turner caught up with Spike Lee, who shared what the late boxing champion meant to him.
"It started when I was a kid. Brooklyn, New York. I mean, with him, Muhammad Ali, then I think about John Carlos, Tommy Smith with the fists up in the '60s Olympics in Mexico," the filmmaker recalled. "It made a great impact on a young black kid growing up."
"It was a wonderful, wonderful service and Lonnie was so eloquent and God bless her and the Ali family," Lee added, making sure to confirm that Ali really was "the greatest of all time."
"I know that my father and I had a special connection. We all had a connection with our father, but mine, unlike any other, because we both did the same thing. We've both been hit upside the head, and hit some people upside the head, and it's a whole different thing," she explained. "We've bumped heads over the years. But at the same time, we had so much respect for one another, and like I said, that's something I'll cherish and always respect with my father."
Laila is herself a retired boxer who went undefeated during her professional career, however, she told ET that she has also followed her own path.
"All of my life, as a public person, I'm not gonna try to be my father," she said. "I'm not gonna do the rope-a-dope. I'm not gonna do all that. I'm gonna live my life, do what I want to do, just as he did."
"I just want to say that, on behalf of my family, we appreciate all of the love and support and condolences that everybody's been sending, and we're OK," she added. "We're holding up. We want everyone to have a positive vibe. We're gonna miss him, but, you know, it's time. It's time to say goodbye."
Watch the video below for more of ET's discussion with Laila Ali.