With Muhammad Ali passing away last Friday, he joins a long list of respected influential figures to have died in 2016. That list includes
- Music: David Bowie, Natalie Cole, Dennis Davies (drummer on Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster”), Keith Emerson, Glenn Frey, Leon Haywood, Prince. Jimmy Riley, Maurice White, Billy Paul.
- Film/TV: Ronnie Corbett , Alan Rickman, Victoria Wood, Burt Kwouk, Sylvia “Lady Penelope” Anderson
- Sports: Johan Cryuff, Martin Crowe
- Journalism: Tony Cozier, Ray Fitzwalter, Gary Spaulding
- Architecture: Zaha Hadid
- The one and only DJ Derek
These individuals gave us fun, escapism, humour, talking points, knowledge and influenced our outlook on many subjects. Billy Paul’s music during the US civil rights movement and Ray Fitzwalter’s “World in Action” documentaries are prime examples.
Ali was the big influence on me from the early 1970s in London. I remembered watching his fight against Joe Bugner on television in London. I remember the interviews and his smile from an early age.
Even when I went to live in Jamaica a- during the late 1970s/80s – Ali was such a big name there. Games and riddles were created in his name via the playground – “mi waan mi dally”!
Ali’s career made me love reading even more due to the numerous well documented biographies by writers including David Remnick & Thomas Hauser. Muhammad Ali was just too interesting and exceptional to ignore whatever the media platform he was on.
Ali was such a handsome man which the camera just warm to and was one of the reasons for my love (& study) of black and white photography. He was one of my subject matters to research for on that course.
Documentaries such as When We Were Kings and Facing Ali made me understand more of how loved and respected he was by the public, media and in particular his boxing opponents.
When I introduced younger folks to the life of Muhammad Ali I would always start with a large photography book – Muhammad Ali: The Glory Years by Felix Dennis and Don Atyeo.
I met Ali very briefly at a promo at the iconic Sportpages bookstore in the West End of London. Ironically John Gaustad – founder of Sportpages – hosted that event for Ali as John’s love of sporting books influenced many including me. For many years my lunch breaks were spent at Sportpages talking sports (especially cricket & boxing) with John and anyone else in there at the time. Most of my sporting biographies were bought from that unique store.
John died last Saturday.