New York — Aretha Franklin remembers the first time she met Muhammad Ali, before he was famous. She was preparing for a concert in Los Angeles, and she recalled a man yelling, “I’m the Greatest, I’m the Greatest!”
“I was saying, ‘Who is he? Who is this guy?’” she recalled in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday. “Of course, later we all became aware of who he was and what he was about.”
Franklin said the pair had a “beautiful relationship,” and paid tribute to her late friend, who died Friday at age 74 after suffering with Parkinson’s disease for years.
Although they were in opposite fields, Ali and Franklin collaborated through the years, at charities and at shows, and she said she went to almost all his fights. Franklin, also 74, recalled a man who was “full of fun, really full of fun.” One of his loves was magic, she said, and he loved to watch it performed, or perform it for others.
Ali the private man was not much different from the public figure. “What everyone saw was exactly who he was at the time that you saw it,” she said.
That extended to his activism, Franklin said.
“Ali was certainly not one to be quiet about his feelings. I think he was a very strong example straight across the board in terms of what he felt were human rights and civil rights; that’s just who he was,” she said.
Franklin said she hadn’t seen her friend in recent years, but he remained in her prayers. She praised his wife, Lonnie, for her devoted care of the boxing great.
“When the glory days are gone and the applause has died down … she was the bare bones of who really cared and who was going to stand with you all the way,” she said.
As far as her friend, Franklin said: “I don’t think there will be another Ali.
“He was like an original, like a Rembrant or a Van Gogh, or a Degas, and certainly as priceless.”
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