To mark Muhammad Ali's 70th birthday, David Frost charts the life and career of the world's greatest sportsman through a series of interviews and meets Ali at his Michigan ranch.
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Hello and welcome.
I first met Muhammad Ali in 1968,
a year or so after he'd been stripped
of his world heavyweight title
for refusing, on religious grounds, to fight in Vietnam.
Throughout the next few pivotal years of his life, we met often
and talked on television at least seven or eight times.
A good preparation for taking a look, as we're about to do,
at Muhammad Ali as he was then and Muhammad Ali as he is now.
ROAR OF CROWD
COMMENTATOR: 'Oh! That left caught him! It came from nowhere.
'Ali makes two with the left.
'The crowd screaming.
'The first knockdown in the fight he took the mandatory eight.
'And now Ali is behaving like the old Ali.
'One more knockdown in this round, the fight is automatically over.
'He is running.
'If he goes down again...
'It's over! Ali is the knockout winner
'at two minutes and three seconds,
'by my unofficial clock, of the final round.'
Tell me, when you were boxing,
which did you regard as your strongest hand,
your right or your left?
Why is it, do you think, that over the years
black boxers do better than white boxers?
What would be your advice to young boxers today?
Hit and run!
As you drive into Muhammad Ali's spacious 88-acre estate
in southwest Michigan,
first you glimpse a comfortable farmhouse.
Then you drive on to the office building
where Muhammad and his wife Lonnie work with their staff.
They are the offices of GOAT,
an acronym for Greatest Of All Time.
Few would disagree.
Muhammad, it's 34 years since we first met. How are you?
But feeling good?
Do you think that the Parkinson's that you've got
was caused by boxing.
Despite the Parkinson's,
your mind is just as good, isn't it, today, as it ever was?
He makes appearances, but for different types of legislation,
especially when it comes to funding.
I think what bothers him more is when he sees young adults
affected by this disease, and it is a very insidious disease.
his association with Michael J Fox and the Michael J Fox Foundation,
I think Michael had a big impact on Muhammad
because Michael's still young and, you know,
he has young children, a young wife, and Muhammad could say,
"I've lived most of my life".
But this is a young guy who has gotten this.
And Michael's very affected by this illness, this disease.
He doesn't let it stop him
but his motor functions are very much affected by it.
And with the new drugs, it could...it could get better.
Or not worse - could get better.
It's always up and down.
It's always trying to adjust and re-adjust
because I think the body becomes immune to things eventually.
And with Muhammad, it's particular difficult
because his body's so fine-tuned.
As we've just seen,
one of the major contrasts in Muhammad's life then and now
is his physical condition, waging a brave fight
against the most remorseless opponent he has ever had to fight -
After some of the more lurid newspaper stories
we've read about his health over the years,
I must say my first emotion was a sense of relief,
that Muhammad had not lost the characteristic sense of humour
and natural intelligence
that had delighted the world ever since his career began.
We started by reminiscing about those early days.
What was your first memory of throwing a punch? How old were you?
Did you know then you were going to be famous, when you were a kid?
Cassius Clay, as he then was, first achieved world recognition
when he won the heavyweight gold medal at the Rome Olympics of 1960.
He and his team-mates made no attempt to conceal their delight.
After you'd won the gold medal in the Olympics
and you went back home to Louisville,
and in fact, the five and dime store wouldn't serve you,
did you really throw your Olympic gold medal into the Ohio River?
You really did throw it in the river?
And in fact, you got that gold medal...
they gave you a new gold medal in 1996, at Atlanta, didn't they?
And in those early days in Miami, just before you were training...
when you were training there, that was when you met,
would you say one of the most important people in your life,
Was he one of the most important people in your life?
And you really liked Malcolm X, did you?
Of all the fights, what's your greatest memory? Which one?
Just four weeks before Muhammad's greatest fight,
I was fortunate enough to be at his training camp
in Deer Lake for an interview.
After we'd climbed into the ring,
what followed was vintage Ali.
No problem. This will be the biggest upset since Sonny Liston.
And I think it is befitting
that I go out of boxing just like I came in -
defeating a big, bad monster that nobody could destroy.
A hard punch. I'm the underdog.
If he hits me, I'm in trouble, like the Sonny Liston fight.
But I came back and I shook the world when I got Liston.
Now it's ten years since Sonny Liston,
I'm meeting another big, bad, strong monster,
knockout artist that beats everybody.
Sonny Liston knocked out Patterson twice and I was supposed to fall.
But he didn't knock me out because...
He could hit hard but he couldn't find nothing to hit.
George Foreman knocked out Ken Norton,
knocked out Joe Frazier.
True, I didn't knock him out but I'm so fast,
I'm so hard, so scientific - I'm a totally different man from Frazier.
Listen, David, when I meet this man, if you think the world was surprised
when Nixon resigned, wait till I whip Foreman's behind!
LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE
I'm telling you, David, I'm down to 215 pounds, right now sat here
weighing 215, I'm fighting weight already.
I usually train six weeks for a fight.
I've trained four months for this fight, I'm chopping trees,
I've done something special - I've wrestled with an alligator.
I believe you totally.
-I believe you completely.
-I have tussled with a whale,
I've handcuffed lighting, throw thunder in jail.
You know I'm bad. Only last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone,
hospitalised a brick, I'm so mean I make medicine sick.
Man's in trouble.
Listen, people are afraid of George Foreman,
they talk about how hard he hits - the world has been deceived.
You listen, I've never told you wrong, the man don't hit hard,
he knocked Joe Frazier down six times, he got up six times.
Jose King Roman, the Puerto Rican fighter,
he knocked him down three times, he jumped up three times.
He knocked Ken Norton down four times, he jumped up four times.
When have you ever seen the man say seven, eight, nine, ten...
Count this man out.
When I hit Sonny Liston, he stayed out for the count of ten.
Zora Folley stayed out for the count of ten,
Cleveland Williams stayed out for the count of ten.
What few I haven't knocked out stayed down.
Sugar Ray Robinson I knocked him out for the count of 30, Joe Lewis,
Marciano, Jack Dempsey, Jack Johnson,
Archie Moore, they knock 'em out cold,
so this man has never knocked nobody out cold, he's a bully.
He's slow, he has no skill, no footwork, he's awkward,
and I have given him a name...
I named Floyd Patterson the Rabbit, I named Sonny Liston the Bear,
and he shall be known officially as the Mummy!
Why the Mummy?
Because when he's fighting, if you ever watch him in the ring,
he drags like this at his opponent.
And how's a mummy ever going to catch me?
When you're fighting a mummy, you just keep a step ahead of the mummy,
yeah, just move on the mummy.
Nope, mummy, I'm over here. Nope, mummy I'm over here...
No, you're moving too fast, the Mummy don't move that fast!
Let me tell you something, David,
I shall be the Mummy's curse that night.
-Have you heard of the Mummy's curse?
-Have I heard of the Mummy's curse?
Yes, it's going to be some fight.
The greatest fight, the greatest event of all time
when I get to Kinshasa, Zaire.
Two billion people will watch the fight
and that's ten times the population of America.
That's like a country ten times bigger than America.
Two billion people, to give you an idea how many people that is,
two billion people will fill an arena of 100,000 seats
every night with new faces for 170 years.
-That's a great...
-A hundred thousand people every night,
new faces, for 170 years and I draw that crowd, not George Foreman.
It's my beautiful looks, it's my skill, um, it's my va-va-voom-ness.
Your beauty and your humble...
I think first of all it's your humbleness
and then it's your beauty, isn't it?
Cos when you look in the mirror in the morning,
it must be a wonderful experience.
You know, I've been in the ring now for probably 20 years
and I'm as pretty as you(!)
And slightly fitter. Which round is it going to end?
I'm not predicting the round. Uh, could, but it puts me on the spot.
You worry about predicting the round and then you might get him early
and then you'd carry on to that round or you might slip up
and get hurt, there's too much pressure.
I predict, David, that I'm going to out-dance him,
I'm going to stick him, I'm going to be three times as fast,
I'm going to punch him at will.
I might not knock him out cold but I'll TKO him. I predict a TKO.
I predict that the fight will be stopped on cuts or bruises.
I'll humiliate him. Humiliation will stop this fight.
The referee will just step in and stop cos I'll just be
popping at will, popping and sticking and moving and I'm constant...
I'm popping at will until the man will just have to stop it.
You mean, it's going to be the first world title ever stopped on the grounds of humiliation?
No, they've stopped a few of mine for that
and they've stopped other ones,
but I'm serious, this man has two chances - slim and none.
-The man is in trouble.
-He's got problems.
-He's got problems.
Have you done any...apart from wrestling with an alligator,
have you done anything special this time, diets?
Not just boxers, any athlete has to refrain from anything
that is bad for his health.
Especially when you have a strenuous sport, football, baseball,
basketball, wrestling, anything that takes stamina is hard
and anybody watching this evening, you yourself, you get up
and jump around - man or woman - scuffle with someone,
jump around with them for three minutes and watch how tired you get.
Serious wrestling and competition is tiresome
and for 15 rounds before 150,000 people, knowing two billion
people are watching, takes a lot out of you. It makes your...
You got the world's greatest fighter and one of the world's best
taking punches at your face, your body, little hard gloves on,
and everything at stake, your futures, your lives,
your family's investments, everything's at stake - this worries you.
The pressure and the excitement, the drama.
Even people who come to fights are nervous, and many of the fans here
and yourself, I mean, the night you go to the fight, you'll be nervous
just waiting for the bell to ring.
Finally these two men are going to clash, who's going to win,
Muhammad Ali or George Foreman?
-Both of them are great, one's got to fall, right?
Somebody's got to leave and you're excited.
You're not as dumb as you look, fella!
Was rope-a-dope something you planned
or something you thought of on the night?
Are boxers today as good as they were in your day, or is boxing today
not as good as it was in your day?
And Mike Tyson, I mean,
should they have banned Mike Tyson?
Well, originally he bit off
part of Evander Holyfield's ear, originally.
That is bad, isn't it?
And then later on, he got in a fight
in a press conference with Lennox Lewis.
But Mike Tyson is not necessarily a good example to young people.
Is it better, when you're fighting, when you're boxing,
is it better to go into the ring
calm and cool or angry?
I mean, you've done both, probably, but which is better?
If you had your time over again, though, would you, Muhammad,
have retired earlier - maybe in '77 or '79?
Tell me, which is worse.
Which is the greatest fear for a boxer going into the ring.
Is it the fear of getting hurt or the fear of losing -
which is the worst?
Who had the strongest punch against you?
Who put the hardest punches at you, Muhammad?
Was it George Foreman or Joe Frazier or Spinks or who?
Carry on, or shall we stop for a break?
We'll just take a couple of minutes?
You did that brilliantly, we didn't know.
That's the first time I've thought that someone I'm interviewing
had fallen asleep! You had us all going there.
After Cassius Clay exchanged what he used to call his slave name
for the name Muhammad Ali in 1964,
under the influence of Elijah Muhammad
he became an increasingly militant advocate for the blacks of America.
I'm not here to advise or meet nobody. I'm just shocked and...shook up over
hearing about the people and the children and the pregnant women that have been brutalised
and mistreated here in Kentucky.
And at this moment, when I'm expected to go overseas
to help free the people in South Vietnam,
and at the same time, my people here are being brutalized and mistreated,
and this has disturbed me more than what's happening in Vietnam.
You told me 34 years ago that all white men were devils.
I believe that all white people are devils. I'm not going to be phoney.
I've given up 10 million in fighting,
I'll go to jail for five years,
and you think I'm going to get on this TV show and deny
what I believe?
-I believe every bit of it.
-I know. I'm just...
-Tell white people, defend yourself,
and challenge this man.
I challenge you now. In the sense that...
I don't disagree with the fact that some white people...
some white people are devils...
The Christian Bible says all white people are devils.
The Christian Bible says all people are sinful.
It says all white Gentiles and Jews are devils.
-No, it says all people are sinful.
-In the Christian Bible.
-If we say that the whole world...
-Have you time to stop the show and let me get my briefcase?
-Can you stop the tape for a minute?
-We'll keep the tape running...
-Let me get my briefcase...
-Get it in four hundredths of a second...
Right. Well, he's just going to...
prove to us that all white people are devils.
We'll keep the tape running and...
..and wait for him to return.
Here we are.
It says here in Romans...
and ninth verse...
"What then," it says, "are we better they?
"No and no wise, for we have before proved
"both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin.
"As it is written, there is non-righteous. No, not one."
That proves what I said because that includes you and the blacks...
-It says Jews and Gentiles.
-The Greek word for Gentiles means...
The Greek word for Gentiles means non-Jews.
You've got a marvellous case. You're ruining it by going too far.
-Prove I'm going too far.
-Prove to me that it happened every day.
What I'm doing is right.
We couldn't preach this every day if it wasn't right.
-Look, if you're going to...
-Nobody challenges us,
-not even the white government - everybody knows we preach.
-I challenged you and I was right.
-You're not right. Jews and Gentiles, which is white people...
-Gentiles means BLACK people...
-No. Gentiles means white people.
-Gentiles means everyone who isn't a Jew.
-Gentiles means white people.
You don't really believe that now, do you?
A dramatic example of Muhammad Ali then and now.
After our first interview in 1968, I said to him that he was sounding
a bit like a black George Wallace,
referring to the white supremacist governor of Alabama.
Nevertheless, his warmth and humanity still came through.
I said to him that if only he could change the rhetoric,
he could be a black Bobby Kennedy,
rather than a black George Wallace.
Over the years, not because I said so, he has made that journey.
He just said there, not all white men are devils,
anybody could be evil, it's the mentality not the colour.
Things are different now in Louisville, aren't they?
The blacks get a better deal in Louisville today, don't they?
Muhammad Ali is the man who, as an individual,
has stood for so many things.
He stood primarily for the fact that we must all come together
and live in peace.
I'd like to present a proclamation to Muhammad and Lonnie
at this very time.
The Ali Center is really a legacy to the ideals,
the beliefs and the values of Muhammad Ali.
If you look at the man,
an evolution of the man,
you can learn a lot.
I thought his footprint was too big
to be left aside.
It could serve as a guide,
as a template for children to develop into being
as great at they wanted to be, just like Muhammad did.
A simple little boy from Louisville, Kentucky.
He didn't have much but had a dream.
And he dreamed big.
And he always believed in himself.
When you look at the evolution of this man
and how he came to be who he is today,
a world-class citizen, a citizen of the world,
who is loved by people all over the world,
regardless of where they come from, their religion,
their ethnic backgrounds, their political philosophies,
you have to think, what made this man
and the way he's able to relate to people.
Muhammad is one who, seriously, believe it or not,
even though he was a boxer in the ring, seriously avoids conflict.
He always tries to work out and find a peaceful resolution,
even if it's in the household. Um...
And that too the Center will carry
because we believe that if there's any one single individual
who is alive in the world today who could bring people together
to a table, to talk over their differences
and find some type of constructive understanding and solution
to the issues that they have with each other,
it would be Muhammad.
Do you think, in terms of the Muslim world and our world,
that you could act as a bridge
to help bring understanding?
How many times did you visit Mecca?
Was it a fantastic and awe-inspiring experience for you as a...
After September 11th, you made some great statements.
Do you think our war against the Taliban and against AlQaeda,
the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, that's really a just war,
we're right to try and stop terror?
So, you... You float like a butterfly with that question?
Who are you most grateful to for your career?
What way is Allah different from the God I believe in?
Is Allah different? In what way is he different?
-Is he more of a man?
-Allah IS a man.
Where your God is probably a spirit.
Something that you can't see and is harmless,
somewhere floating around.
Our God is on Earth. Allah is on Earth.
-He's a man. That's why you say God created man in his own image.
If I make a chair in the image of that chair you're sitting in,
it'll look like that chair.
So, God made us in his image. You're telling me God's a man.
He look like us. And you refer to God as him, right?
His and he.
Whether it's a cat, rat or dog, anything of a male sex,
you refer to it as him, his or he.
So, if God is a spirit and a spook,
why do you keep saying he, him and his?
We teach that God is on Earth.
He is a supreme being.
You are a HUMAN being.
He is a being too but he is supreme over the other beings.
Do you pray to your God, to Allah?
I pray every morning at five o'clock.
My clock rings at 4.30.
I'm up at five. I take a shower.
I put my white robe on.
I put the towel on the floor and I face the east,
We say, "Surely, I have turned myself to Thee, O Allah.
"Trying to be upright,
"to him who has originated the heavens and the Earth.
"And I'm not of the polytheists.
"Surely my prayers, my sacrifices, my life and my death
"are all for Allah, the Lord of all the worlds.
"No associates has he.
"This I am commanded.
"I am of those who submit.
"O, Allah. Thou art the King.
"Thou art mine Lord and I am thine servant.
"I have been greatly unjust to myself
"and I do confess my fault.
"So please grant me protection against all my faults.
"For none grants protection against faults but Thou.
"And to lead me to the best of morals.
"For none can turn away from me
"the worst of morals but Thee.
"And guide me to the best of morals
"for none can guide to the best of morals but Thee.
"O Allah, make the Honourable Elijah Muhammad successful
"and make the followers of Muhammad
"successful here in the wilderness of North America
"as Thou didst make Abraham and the followers of Abraham successful
"for surely Thou praise are magnified in Thy midst.
"O Allah, bless Muhammad and bless the followers of Muhammad
"here in the wilderness of North America
"as Thou didst bless Abraham and the followers of Abraham
"for surely Thou art praise and magnified in Thy midst."
There ain't nothing more beautiful than getting up in the morning,
brushing your teeth, washing your mouth, removing the sin and evil that you've got from the world.
Comb your hair, wash the dirt out of your hair.
Clean your ears - all parts of your body.
Put a clean white robe on, don't even stand on the dirty floor,
stand on the towel, no shoes on, facing the east,
asking the originator of the universe to make me better,
make me stronger, give me more power.
This is done five times a day when I can,
especially when I go to bed -
another bath, another shower, clean my mouth, pray -
and at five in the morning, this goes on and when I'm right...
Now, I didn't do that for the first Frazier fight,
nor the first Norton fight.
My head got big and I started thinking it was my training camp
and my boxing ability that kept me where I was at
and God punished me and he gave me a good whoopin'.
He broke my jaw in the second fight
and he got me whooped and knocked down in the Frazier fight.
I realised I wasn't that great after all.
So, I had to get not only together physically but spiritually.
For this fight, I've prayed every day for five days,
five times a day for the past...
four months and everything is perfect
and if Allah's with me, there ain't no way no man can win!
When I got Allah and Elijah Muhammad, can't no human being win.
There is no way, no way,
cos I'm representing God,
I'm representing the freedom of black people in America.
I want to be the one black man who stands up and looks at white people
and tells the truth, who don't sell them out,
who don't Uncle Tom, who don't promote cigarettes,
don't promote whisky,
take his fame to uplift his little brother in the ghetto
cos all the other movie stars and all the other people that you know,
like Diahann Carroll, one you know,
they all a white man, they want to marry a white
and they all... They don't think black.
And on down the line, there's many more I could name,
make movies hugging on white women.
They get their fame and they leave their little people.
So, I'm asking God, Allah, to make me strong, not for me -
don't give me no money, don't give me the fame.
I want to win so I can come home
and speak for the brother who's living in rat-infested houses,
sleeping on concrete in the ghetto, can't go on television and speak,
so God, I'm your tool, I'm your servant,
let me get this man tonight!
And go out blastin'!
MEMBERS OF AUDIENCE CHEER
-That's the way I think.
That is an incredible speech
and what you do for black pride is absolutely incredible.
-This is the way I feel.
-What you do for black pride...
I'm not fighting for me.
I'm looking at George Foreman, the establishment.
If he wins, I'm thinking - which is not true -
but if he wins, we're enslaved for 300 more years.
If I win, we are free.
I'm not Foreman, you know that, don't you?
There's a little forehand. LAUGHTER
-No, I see Foreman, I don't see a black man, I see you.
I see, I see...the White House.
-I'm not the White House either!
I see the...I see something white!
I don't know what he is.
Cos I'm fighting!
I'm...fighting slavery! I want to be free!
-That's what I'm fightin'!
-OK, you can be free. You've persuaded me.
-You do a fantastic...
-That's the way I think too.
I just don't be fighting.
I've got to get my mind like this, see.
I'm bucking so many odds, and a bad man, too much for me to handle.
I've got to call on the supreme being to step in, to intervene.
The same with the Liston fight, I did a lot of praying.
And same with the giraffe, same with the second Norton fight,
the second Frazier fight.
Divine power came in.
If you watched the last round of Norton, the last round of Frazier,
you'll find that if I lost the last round with Frazier in this fight, I would have lost the fight.
If I'd lost the last round of the Norton fight, I'd have lost the fight.
Those two fights I got a supreme power from the supreme being.
I started dancing, moving
and anybody that watched that fight
don't know how Muhammad Ali came back in them rounds
cos I prayed to heaven and relied on Allah and I DANCED!
I was diggin' and dancing, I was eatin' Frazier up in that last round.
Ken Norton came back after a broken jaw, dancing!
He was fast and I was faster.
So, this fight - I'm calling all everything.
Not only my physical ability but all over.
The supreme being, Allah.
Muhammad Ali's journey away from the more extreme Nation of Islam
has not at any stage led him away from his basic faith in Allah.
That remains constant, then and now.
His concern for his family has, if anything,
also grown with the passing years.
Would you like your son Asaad to go into boxing?
May not make it.
What do you think about women's boxing?
Although he wishes his daughter was not boxing,
the respectful tolerance of that last answer
says something about the way his attitude to women
has developed from then to now.
This was Muhammad Ali on The David Frost Show, in 1972.
I think a woman's useless
if she can't produce a man's generation, his future, you know?
Did I understand you think a woman is useless unless she can produce a lot of children?
I mean, I'd buy the food, I'd do all the working
and all you can do is produce the children.
And this is what his wife Lonnie has to say about him now.
He likes dialogue and he likes to talk about religious issues.
And...especially female issues.
It's interesting because he really likes to challenge you
on some of the viewpoints on Islam with women.
Believe me, when you look at who I am today,
this is because of Muhammad.
Muhammad has given me every opportunity in the world to be Superwoman
and sometimes all I want to do is to retreat to my household
and be a wife and a mother, forget the rest.
So, I can't call Muhammad a chauvinist in no sense of the word.
If you hadn't boxed, what would you have done?
You could have been a politician.
What's a normal day now for Muhammad Ali?
Are you very happy...
happy and content now, your life with Lonnie...?
Is this one of the happiest times of your life, despite Parkinson's?
As you look back over your life now...
is there anything you'd change in your life, Muhammad?
Back in 1974, when Muhammad was at my home in London,
he inscribed this message on a card...
"A man who sees the world the same way at 60
"that he did at 30
"has lived and wasted 30 years of his life."
Well, it's very clear that Muhammad Ali has not...
..wasted the last 30 years of HIS life.
What's the thing you would most like people to say about your life,
"He was a great champion", or what?
What would you like people to think about you when you've gone?
I'd like for them to say, "He took a few cups of love.
"He took one tablespoon of patience.
"One tablespoon, teaspoon of generosity.
"One pint of kindness.
"He took one quart of laughter, one pinch of concern
"and then he mixed willingness with happiness,
"he added lots of faith and he stirred it up well.
"Then he spread it over a span of a lifetime
"and he served it to each and every deserving person he met."
-Muhammad Ali, thank you very much.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
On the occasion of Muhammad Ali's 70th birthday, Sir David Frost charts the life and career of the world's greatest sportsman through a series of landmark interviews.
Frost meets Ali at his ranch in Michigan and together they look back over the boxer's glittering career and talk about the Parkinson's disease that now blights the former champion's life.
The programme also includes excerpts from two of their greatest encounters - in 1968 when Ali declared that all 'white men are devils' and in 1974 when they met at Ali's training camp at Deer Lake prior to the historic Rumble in the Jungle fight with George Foreman.