LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Muhammad Ali has come home to celebrate his 70th birthday at the facility that celebrates his boxing triumphs and promotes his efforts to help out the underdogs in society.
The three-time world heavyweight champion will bask in the attention he adores Saturday night when his friends gather at the Muhammad Ali Center to celebrate his latest milestone in an epic life that began humbly in Louisville.
Ali turns 70 on Tuesday, and the party his hometown is the first of five planned in the next couple of months.
The guest list includes Ali’s trainer Angelo Dundee and former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, who grew up imitating the Ali shuffle. Singer John Mellencamp headlines the entertainment. Also invited are three American hikers who were imprisoned in Iran. Ali, perhaps the most prominent U.S. Muslim, lobbied for their release.
The private party doubles as a $1,000-per-person fundraiser for the Ali Center, the 6-year-old cultural and education complex seen as a legacy to the champ’s social activism. The six-story center also retraces Ali’s stunning career including famous bouts against Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Sonny Liston.
The self-proclaimed “greatest of all time” remains one of the world’s most recognizable figures, even though he’s largely absent from the public eye now as he battles Parkinson’s disease.
Ali’s wife, Lonnie, said Friday that her husband has mixed feelings about the landmark birthday.
“He’s glad he’s here to turn 70, but he wants to be reassured he doesn’t look 70,” she said.
Born as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on Jan. 17, 1942, Ali took up boxing at age 12 when his bike was stolen and he wanted to find and whip the culprit. The boy was introduced to Joe Martin, a police officer who coached boxing at a local gym.
Ali flourished in the ring, becoming a top amateur and Olympic gold medalist. He made his professional debut in Louisville and arranged for a local children’s hospital to receive proceeds from the fight.
Ali won the heavyweight title in 1964, defeating the heavily favored Sonny Liston. Soon after, Ali — who was raised in a Baptist family — announced his conversion to Islam and changed his name.
While in his prime, Ali was stripped of his heavyweight crown in 1967 for refusing to be drafted for military service during the Vietnam War. He cited his religious beliefs as the reason for his refusal.
His decision alienated Ali from many across the U.S. and resulted in a draft-evasion conviction. Ali found himself in a long legal fight that ended in 1971, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor.
Ali lost his first bid to regain the heavyweight crown when Frazier knocked him down and took a decision in the Fight of the Century at Madison Square Garden in 1971.
Ali regained the heavyweight title in 1974, defeating Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle.” A year later, he outlasted Frazier in the epic Thrilla in Manila bout.
Last year, a frail Ali rose from his seat and clapped for his chief rival at Frazier’s funeral.
Ali’s last title came in 1978 when he defeated Leon Spinks.
Ali retired from boxing in 1981 and devoted himself to his social causes. He traveled the world on humanitarian missions, mingling with the masses and rubbing elbows with world leaders. Ali received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2005.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.