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His courage in and out of the ring captured us all

By Ian Herbert

There would have been no fear for Muhammad Ali when he was lifted for the last time from his rocking chair beneath the shady trees of his ranch at Berrien Springs, Michegan, because death, like everything thing, was something he could look right in the eye.

"You don't own nothing," he said, when illness had reduced him to a shadow of his once imperious self. "You're just a trustee in this life."

The three-time heavyweight champion, who had been suffering from a respiratory illness and was on life support after being admitted to a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, on Thursday, was a key figure in America's civil rights movement. But the courage of his own convictions was never more present than when he declined induction into the US Army in 1967, with the nation at war in Vietnam.

He was convicted of draft evasion, fined $10,000 and sentenced to five years' imprisonment for this. The stand he took cost him three and half years at the peak of his fighting life, though he did not serve time.

Extraordinary events followed - above all the Rumble in the Jungle with Foreman, where he won against immeasurable odds, even though the enforced absence took a toll on his speed which he would never get back.

But it was testament to his talent for making money being matched by a phenomenal capacity to get rid of it that Ali found himself dragged back from retirement to face Larry Holmes in 1980.

Those who knew him feared for him and his delusions of immortality, as he declared he could fight for three more years.

The Parkinson's Disease which would incrementally reduce his powers of movement and speech had already begun to take its toll.

He bore it, implacably, campaigned for an understanding of the condition, and thus came to represent something else - a vision of what life can reduce us all to and how we would hope to deal with it.

Ali's daughter Hana remembered her father as a "Humble Mountain" with a "beautiful soul".

Ali's family said he had been found 'barely breathing' at his home on Thursday. It was the kind of fate he would have told opponents to expect, back in the day when he seemed indestructible.

He would have liked the irony in that.

A private family service will be held on Thursday, with a public funeral in Ali's home city of Louisville, Kentucky on Friday, when former US President Bill Clinton will deliver a eulogy.

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