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Ali's legacy endures at 70

12 January 2012, 10:24

Washington - Muhammad Ali's legacy of respect, hope and understanding among people has an enduring spirit for those who have seen the power that the boxing icon has even as he nears his 70th birthday.

More than 30 years after his last fight, Ali's fame as a humanitarian is immortalized in the Muhammad Ali Center, a non-profit home in Louisville, Kentucky, for far more than souvenirs of the legendary heavyweight champion's career.

"It's much more than a building. We are here to create an enduring legacy," said Ali Centre spokesperson Jeanie Kahnke.

"We want Muhammad's legacy to be carried on to the next generation. We are the institution that will carry on Muhammad's legacy."

Despite battling Parkinson's disease, Ali has lent his fame to efforts large and small to help people, whether it's neighborhood groups in his hometown of Louisville or helping bring food and medicine to poorer nations.

Ali is recalled for his flamboyant character and youthful charm as well as epic fights with the late Joe Frazier and winning a showdown in Africa against George Foreman.

For some, Ali's fame comes from his anti-war stance and the courage he showed in being banned from boxing at the peak of his career for refusing to enlist as an American soldier in the Vietnam War.

Still others point to Ali's role in the 1960s US civil rights movement, a proud messenger of black culture and social change that helped pave the way for iconic athletes who followed such as the NBA's Michael Jordan and golf star Tiger Woods.

"It's hard to bottle Muhammad Ali's magic but the values that he has been led by and believed in are represented in the Ali Center," Kahnke said.

"We work to transport the magic of Muhammad Ali beyond these walls and to have a positive effect on people.

"We're not just a destination place. We're about creating a movement for the younger generation. Most of the young people only know him as a boxer."

Mitchell Butler, a young boy of eight from New Zealand when he met Ali at the dedication ceremony for the center in 2005, was among those who filmed a video birthday greeting for Ali's birthday party on Saturday with family and friends.

Meeting Ali can be an emotional experience even for the most hardened.

"It's extraordinary," Kahnke said. "He touches people like no other. Grown men cry when they see him."

Whether inspired by Ali, aided by him or just able to recall enjoying his exploits in turbulent times, people carry much from Ali memories.

"Muhammad Ali is embraced by so many people around the world but the effect he has on people is that he inspires for many different reasons - his courage, his kindness, his charisma," Kahnke said.

"What's ironic about it is Muhammad is so humble. He's a unique individual."

Famous quotes from Muhammad Ali:

"Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can't hit what his eyes can't see. Rumble young man rumble."
- Before fighting George Foreman in 1974

"I ain't got no quarrel with them Vietcong. How can I kill somebody when five times a day I pray for peace? You want me to be so scared of the white man I'll go and get two arms shot off and 10 medals so you can give me a small salary and pat my head and say, 'Good boy, he fought for our country.'"
- After refusing induction to the US Army in 1967 during the Vietnam War

"I done wrestled with an alligator. I done tussled with a whale. Handcuffed lightning. Thrown thunder in jail. Only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick. I'm so mean I make medicine sick."
- Before fighting George Foreman in 1974

"It will be a killer and a chiller and a thriller when I get the gorilla in Manila."
- Before his 1975 fight with Joe Frazier in Manila

"Now Clay swings with a right - what a beautiful swing - and raises the bear straight out of the ring; Liston is rising and the ref wears a frown, for he can't start counting 'til Liston comes down.

"Now Liston disappears from view, the crowd is getting frantic. But our radar stations have picked him up somewhere over the Atlantic. Who would have thought when they came to the fight, that they'd witness the launching of a human satellite?

"Yes the crowd did not dream when they laid down their money, that they would see a total eclipse of the Sonny."
- Before fighting Sonny Liston in 1964

"I'm so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and got into bed before the room was dark."
- Before fighting George Foreman in 1974

"I'll be the ghost that haunts boxing. People will say, 'Ali is the real champ and everyone else is a fake.'"
- In 1971 before fighting Joe Frazier

"Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn't choose it and I don't want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name. It means beloved of God, and I insist people use it when people speak to me and of me."
- Announcing his conversion to the Muslim faith after beating Liston in 1964

"What's my name fool? What's my name?"
- During 1967 fight with Ernie Terrell, who refused to call him Ali

"Superman don't need no seatbelt."
- Ali's famous comment on an airplane

"Superman don't need no plane either."
- The flight attendant's reply.

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