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Longtime Friend Of Muhammad Ali Reacts To Death Of 'The Greatest'


Today, the world's remembering the Greatest, Muhammad Ali. He died last night at the age of 74. Ali was an outsized figure. Millions - let me make that billions of people around the world admired, loved, criticized and quoted him. To Tim Shanahan, he was a friend. Tim Shanahan joins us now from his home outside San Diego. Mr. Shanahan, thanks for being with us.

TIM SHANAHAN: Thank you, Scott. It's a pleasure.

SIMON: Tell us about your friend, please.

SHANAHAN: Well, first of all, last night he had all of his children at his bedside, which is Maryum, Hana, Laila, Rasheda, Jamillah, Khaliah and Miya. And they were all there. And he loves his children. And one of the questions that they had for Muhammad over his career is - what will be your legacy? And Muhammad always answered, my children. So that was very good news that everybody made it to his bedside before he passed.

As far as Muhammad Ali, to me, he is an enigma with a pure heart. He has - he just loves all people. When I talk about Muhammad, I only think of Muhammad as love. He loves all people. And he wanted to help the world any way he could with his fame. So once he became the most recognized face on the planet, he always prayed for wisdom and truth. And that was all - was what he looked for.

He said I want wisdom so I can know how to use my fame in the best way I can when I can help as many people in the world who need my help. And that's what he - one of the things that he always thought about was starving children. And he would lose sleep at nights. I came in one morning when we were going to run at quarter to 6. And we're supposed to run at 6. And he's always up before me. And he was putting on his size 12 1/2 combat boots that he runs in.

And I said, Mohammad, don't you ever sleep? He said I can't. I'm worried about the starving children. I believe in miracles. And I believe that one day, all the children in the world will be fed. So that's what he thinks about.

SIMON: One of the, I'd say, great moments of my childhood was being in Klein's Sporting Goods in Chicago, where, from a distance, we could watch Muhammad Ali buy, like, three pairs of athletic socks.

SHANAHAN: (Laughter).

SIMON: And, you know, but it was during some tough years he had - when he'd been stripped of his title, couldn't get a fight, doing a number of things for income. People can sometimes forget. He came back from a lot...


SIMON: ...In his professional career.

SHANAHAN: And, you know, I always ask him if he was bitter (laughter). You know, I said, those judges really did you wrong. I mean, they voted you - against you and put you out of boxing in the most prime of your career. Angelo Dundee always said we were robbed of the greatest athlete of all time in his prime years. And I said, though - aren't you bitter about that? And he goes the judges did what they thought was right. And I did what I thought was right. So that's the way it goes.

SIMON: Yeah.

SHANAHAN: And as far as his attitude, whenever he's faced with a challenge or a setback like that, he handles it with such dignity. You know, that - that's one of the reasons that his children and his family and his friends accepted his Parkinson's so well is because he never felt sorry for himself. He never said - why me? He always took it as a challenge. And he told me every morning he wakes up and God tests him. And every morning, he passed the test. I remember calling him...

SIMON: I - I'm afraid we got to go on to another story, Mr. Shanahan.

SHANAHAN: OK, go ahead.

SIMON: But it's been a delight to speak with you. Thank you so much.

SHANAHAN: You're welcome.

SIMON: Longtime friend of Muhammad Ali's Tim Shanahan, author of the book "Running With The Champ." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.