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100,000 mourners line streets for the funeral of boxing legend Muhammad Ali

By Jenna Fryer

Muhammad Ali made his final journey through his home town as an estimated 100,000 mourners along the route pumped their fists and chanted "Ali! Ali!" for the former heavyweight champion of the world known simply as The Greatest.

A hearse bearing Ali's cherry-red casket, draped in an Islamic tapestry, arrived at Louisville's Cave Hill Cemetery in a long line of black limousines after a 19-mile drive via Muhammad Ali Boulevard that was both sombre and exuberant.

"He stood up for himself and for us, even when it wasn't popular," said Ashia Powell, waiting at a railing for the hearse to pass by on a road below.

A private graveside service was held yesterday afternoon, and was followed later in the day by a grand memorial service attended by more than 15,000 people, including former president Bill Clinton and comedian Billy Crystal.

Ali, the most magnetic and controversial athlete of the 20th century, died last Friday aged 74 after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. The brash and outspoken athlete transcended sport to become a powerful source of black pride and a symbol of professional excellence recognised around the world.

The casket was loaded into a hearse outside a funeral home as a group of pallbearers that included former boxers Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis and actor Will Smith filed out, along with Ali's nine children, his widow, two of his ex-wives and other family members.

As the limousines rolled past on the way to the cemetery, fans chanted like spectators at one of his fights, stood on cars, held up mobile phones and signs, ran alongside the hearse and reached out to touch it.

They tossed so many flowers onto the windscreen that the driver had to pull some of them off to see the road. Others fell silent and looked on reverently as the champ went by.

Ali chose the cemetery as his final resting place a decade ago. Its 130,000 graves represent a who's who of Kentucky, including Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Colonel Harland Sanders.

Family spokesman Bob Gunnell said he will have a simple headstone, inscribed only "Ali", in keeping with Islamic tradition.

Those in attendance also included actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, director Spike Lee, boxing promoter Don King and football star David Beckham.

Belfast Telegraph


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