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Muhammad Ali: Liam Neeson pays tribute, 'None can compare with his charisma - he was a giant of humanity'

By Claire Williamson

Liam Neeson has paid tribute to Muhammad Ali and told how he will treasure his two meetings with the boxing legend forever.

The three-time world heavyweight champion, who had battled Parkinson's disease for 32 years, died in Phoenix, Arizona, on Friday evening after being admitted to hospital with a respiratory condition on Monday.

Flags have been flying at half-mast in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky since his death was announced.

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In an interview with Irish Central the Taken star, who was a promising amateur boxer himself, said Muhammad Ali was his hero from a young age.

He said: "He was my hero from when I was a young amateur boxer, and schoolboy, back in Ireland. I'll never forget hearing that he had beaten the unbeatable Sonny Liston. It was 1964 and it was a cold wet February in Ballymena.

"As I walked to school that morning, my feet didn't seem to touch the ground: my mind was an excited blur, because somehow the world had changed with that victory."

Ballymena born Neeson told of his two meetings with the legend and how he was tongue-tied with his knees shaking as he came face to face with the champion boxer.

He said: “I got to meet him and before he had his last fight in 1981, not knowing what to say and with my knees shaking, I said "Muhammad, I love you." He gave me a hug and then signed an autograph for my father.

“I met him again in 2011. He was unable to speak with his advanced Parkinson's. I put my hand over his and whispered 'I love you'. His wife said to me 'He knows who you are'.

"I have met and known quite a few movie stars, male and female over the years. None can compare with Ali's charisma. He was a giant of humanity. As a people, we are all in bereavement."

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