Muhammad Ali was the self-proclaimed “greatest of all time,” but that title extended far beyond boxing. In Rolling Stone’s powerful, in-depth new cover story paying tribute to the late fighter, who died earlier this month, contributing editor Mikal Gilmore chronicles Ali’s triumphs both inside and outside of the ring.
“Ali signified America,” Gilmore writes, “as it moved through decades of hatred, fear, violence, as it doubted its better promises, sometimes touching transformative grace, other times unchaining its worse paradoxes, from dilemmas of civil rights and purpose of war to disputes over one of its fundamental ideas, freedom of religion.”
The 14-page feature traces the boxer’s life from his childhood in Louisville, Kentucky – where he was born Cassius Marcellus Clay in 1942 – through his heavyweight championship titles to his work as a diplomat. His fighting career is placed in the context of his adversaries, as Rolling Stone recounts Ali’s bouts with Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Leon Spinks and more with insights from Ali, each of his opponents and commentators like Ali advocate Howard Cossell. His life is placed in the context of the world events he helped shape, including his playful rendezvous with the Beatles, his association with Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, his conscientious objection to the Vietnam War and his recent denouncement of G.O.P. presidential hopeful Donald Trump.
“Speaking as someone who has never been accused of political correctness, I believe that our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people’s views on what Islam really is,” Ali said of Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims.
A sidebar to the article chronicles the times Ali crossed paths with Rolling Stone in five separate profiles during his lifetime, from journalist George Plimpton’s recollection of wearing Ali’s robe to Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s hilarious account of interviewing the boxer in a hotel bedroom. “You scared me,” Ali told Thompson. “You looked like some kind of a bum – or a hippie.”
The story also examines Ali’s devastating Parkinson’s diagnosis and how it shaped the latter half of his life. “I know why this happened,” Ali once told biographer David Remnick. “God’s showing me that I’m just a man like everyone else. Showing you, too. You can learn from me that way.”
“Ali demanded respect and warranted it; he wouldn’t be refused,” Gilmore writes in the cover story. “In the process, he transformed the possibilities of pride, courage and recognition for many other black people – in athletics, certainly, but also beyond.”
Also in this issue: Red Hot Chili Peppers reboot, Keith Urban opens up, inside America’s zika virus outbreak, Tom Petty’s Mudcrutch finally find their groove, Tegan and Sara talk sibling rivalry, Sean Lennon and Primus’ Les Claypool’s unlikely union and Gwen Stefani opens up.
Look for the issue on stands or download it on Friday, June 17th.