Thousands bid farewell to Muhammad Ali

The flower-strewn hearse is surrounded by fans as it passes the boxers childhood home. Picture: AP
The flower-strewn hearse is surrounded by fans as it passes the boxers childhood home. Picture: AP
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Around 100,000 people lined the streets of Muhammad Ali’s hometown yesterday to pay their respects to one of the greatest boxers in the history of the sport as he was laid to rest.

Onlookers chanted “Ali! Ali! Ali!” and threw flowers towards his cortege as it passed through the streets of Louisville, Kentucky. The outpouring of love was such as the driver of the hearse had to pull some of the flowers from the windscreen in order to see the road.

The coffin is carried out of the prayer meeting. Picture: Michael Clevenger/The Courier-Journal

The coffin is carried out of the prayer meeting. Picture: Michael Clevenger/The Courier-Journal

The three-time world heavyweight champion was buried in a private service for family and friends, where the pallbearers included former boxers Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis and actor Will Smith.

Last night, an interfaith memorial service celebrating his life and career was held. Two of Ali’s daughters, Rasheda and Maryum, were due to speak at the service at the KFC Yum! Centre, along with Ali’s widow Lonnie, former US president Bill Clinton, American actor Billy Crystal and Malcolm X’s daughter Attalah Shabazz. Others in the audience included former footballer David Beckham and director Spike Lee.

They were among around 14,000 people attending the service, many of whom travelled from afar to say their goodbyes to the man known as The Greatest, who died a week past Friday at the age of 74.

A fellow Muslim with the same name as the boxing great travelled from Bangladesh, while Briton Abi Ajram, 48, made the 4,000-mile trip from London to pay respect to “a great man”.

He was the number one. I wanted to show my respect to a great man and an even greater humanitarian

ABI AJRAM

He said: “I feel Muhammad Ali deserved the world turning up for him. I thought it’s the least I can do and I wanted to do it the moment I heard he had passed away.

“He was the number one. I wanted to show my respect to a great man and an even greater humanitarian. He meant a lot to me. I met him at the Royal Albert Hall in 2000. I shook his hand. I didn’t know what to say.”

US president Barack Obama missed the service because he was attending his daughter Malia’s high school graduation ceremony, the White House said.

Mr Obama and his wife Michelle instead sent a letter to be read, while White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett - who knew Ali personally - represented the president.

Ahead of the funeral, it emerged some ticket-holders were looking to profit from the free event by selling tickets online.

Bob Gunnell, a spokesman for the Ali family, condemned those trying to sell on the briefs.

He said: “I’m personally disgusted and amazed that someone would try to profit off of Muhammad Ali’s memorial service.

“I hope that those buying tickets or trying to buy tickets would stop those efforts by not purchasing. Muhammad Ali wanted this to be a free event, an event that was open to all.”

Tickets for the service quickly ran out when they were released on Wednesday. It was streamed live online and shown at giant screens at London’s O2 Arena.