Bill Clinton Delivers Emotional Eulogy for Muhammad Ali: 'He Wrote His Own Life Story'
By John Boone
Photo: Getty Images
Among the dozen or so speakers and eulogizers at Muhammad Ali's funeral -- including religious leaders of different faiths, politicians, and scholars -- was former president Bill Clinton, who shared what he saw as the boxing legend's biggest "triumph."
Before his death, Ali personally chose Clinton to speak at the ceremony, which was held at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky, on Friday.
"I can just hear Muhammad saying now, 'Well, I thought I should be eulogized by at least one president. And by making you last in a long, long long, long line, I guaranteed you a standing ovation,'" Clinton joked. "I am trying to think was has been left unsaid."
"I've spent a lot of time now as I get older and older and older trying to figure out what makes people tick, how do they turn out the way they are, how do some people refuse to become victims and rise from every defeat," Clinton began. "I think he decided something I hope every young person here will decide. I think he decided very young to write his own life story."
"I think he decided, before he could have possibly worked it all out and before fate and time could work their will on him, he decided that he would not be ever disempowered. Not by his race, not his place, not the expectations of others...would strip from him the power to write his own story," he continued.
Clinton spent a large portion of his eulogy praising the legendary athlete's devotion to his Muslim faith and how Ali relied on his faith to get through the challenges he faced later in life.
"I will always think of Muhammad as a truly free man of faith. Being a man of faith, he realized he would never be in full control of his life," Clinton said. "Something like Parkinson's could come along, but being free, he realized that life was still open to choices. It is the choices that Muhammad Ali made that have brought us all here today, in honor and love."
In fact, Clinton noted it was the second half of the boxer's life that was more important, explaining, "As the first part of his life was dominated by the triumph of his truly unique gifts -- we should never forget them, we should never stop looking at the movies, we should thank Will Smith for making his movie."
"In the second half of his life, he perfected gifts that we all have, that every single solitary one of us have: gifts of mind and heart," he went on. "Except he found ways to release them, both large and small."
Clinton grew emotional as he spoke of how he will remember the icon he called a friend.
"My enduring image of him is like a little reel in three shots. The boxer I thrilled to as a boy, the man I watched take the last steps to light the Olympic flame when I was president," he explained, admitting that he was "weeping like a baby" during the latter.
"And then this. The children whose lives he touched. The young people he inspired," he concluded. "It's the most important thing of all. So I ask you to remember that. We all have an Ali story. It's the gift we all have that should be most honored today."
ET exclusively spoke with Will Smith ahead of Ali's funeral and the actor opened up about the boxer's "absolutely beautiful" memorial service and revealed touching memories with Ali. Watch in the video below.