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'A World Without Muhammad Ali': Reactions To A Champion's Death

Fans and family are mourning boxer Muhammad Ali, who died at age 74. He's seen here in 1978 with his daughters Laila (9 months) and Hanna (2 years).
Frank Tewkesbury
Getty Images
Fans and family are mourning boxer Muhammad Ali, who died at age 74. He's seen here in 1978 with his daughters Laila (9 months) and Hanna (2 years).

At his peak, he was incandescent, a light that glowed beyond the limitations of boxing and the era in which he was born. Muhammad Ali was an international superstar, loved for his humanity and wit. And now he's being mourned by everyone from former foes to the president.

Ali's daughter, Laila, posted an image of her father planting a proud kiss on his granddaughter Sydney.

"Thanks for all the love and well wishes," she wrote, in a post that has drawn nearly 300,000 responses on Facebook. "I feel your love and appreciate it!!"

George Foreman, who lost the heavyweight title to Ali in 1974's Rumble in the Jungle, tells The Houston Chronicle, "It's like a part of me just passed. It's hard for me to think about being in a world without Muhammad Ali."

Foreman also tweeted a photo of himself with Ali and another rival, Joe Frazier, writing in another tweet that they "were 1 guy."

The Smithsonian recalls 1975, when Ali donated his boxing gloves and robe to its American History Museum – along with a promise that they would be "the most famous thing in this building."

"We lost history and greatness," says Larry Holmes, who went from being Ali's sparring partner to winning his own championship titles – and to beating Ali in 1980. Back in the early 70s, Holmes also persuaded Ali to visit Easton, Pa., where Holmes grew up.

"Chills went through my body then and go through my body now talking about it," Holmes tells Lehigh Valley Live. "Nobody knew who I was. But I was so proud to be able to bring him to my hometown. I was 10 feet tall."

Today, Holmes called Ali "a phenomenal friend and mentor."

Promoter Don King, who handled some of Ali's most famous bouts, tells the AP, "It's a sad day for life, man. I loved Muhammad Ali, he was my friend. Ali will never die." King added, "Like Martin Luther King his spirit will live on, he stood for the world."

As member station WFPL reports from Ali's native Louisville, Ky., — where he'll be buried — the mayor has ordered flags to be flown at half-staff until the Champ is buried.

President Obama tweeted a photo of himself working beneath a framed photo of Ali in the White House.

Obama also issued a statement that reads in part:

"In my private study, just off the Oval Office, I keep a pair of his gloves on display, just under that iconic photograph of him – the young champ, just 22 years old, roaring like a lion over a fallen Sonny Liston. I was too young when it was taken to understand who he was – still Cassius Clay, already an Olympic Gold Medal winner, yet to set out on a spiritual journey that would lead him to his Muslim faith, exile him at the peak of his power, and set the stage for his return to greatness with a name as familiar to the downtrodden in the slums of Southeast Asia and the villages of Africa as it was to cheering crowds in Madison Square Garden.

" 'I am America,' he once declared. 'I am the part you won't recognize. But get used to me – black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own. Get used to me.' "

"That's the Ali I came to know as I came of age – not just as skilled a poet on the mic as he was a fighter in the ring, but a man who fought for what was right. A man who fought for us. He stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard; spoke out when others wouldn't. His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and his public standing. It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled, and nearly send him to jail. But Ali stood his ground. And his victory helped us get used to the America we recognize today. "

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.