Ali smiles as Wonder, others sing Happy Birthday

Last Updated: Sunday, February 19, 2012 - 23:15

Las Vegas: A casino owner paid more than a million dollars for boxing gloves Muhammad Ali used to defend his title.

Samuel L Jackson dedicated a rendition of "Stand By Me" to the boxer. And President Barack Obama told the icon in a birthday tribute that he inspired the world.

By the end of the night, all Ali needed to do to capture the hearts of 2,000 revellers in Las Vegas on Saturday was go onstage and smile.

Ali sat next to Stevie Wonder, who played keyboards and sang his version of "Happy Birthday," while stars including Sean "Diddy" Combs, Kelly Rowland, LL Cool J, Quincy Jones, Sugar Ray Leonard and boxing promoter Bob Arum followed along.

Combs pinched Ali`s cheeks and whispered in his ear, then closed out the nearly 5-hour gala by professing his deep admiration for the fighter.

Ali`s eyes widened. He pointed at Combs, then back at his own head, twirling his index finger as if to tell Combs he`s crazy.

"The greatest of all time," Combs said after leading the crowd in shouting "Happy birthday, Ali."

The moment closed out the celebration of Ali`s life and fundraiser to generate millions of dollars for brain research, a mission Ali`s family says is important to him in part because of his nearly 30-year battle with Parkinson`s disease.

"Happy birthday, champ," Obama told Ali through a video message, saying he wished he could have attended a swanky dinner gala in Las Vegas featuring some of the biggest names in sports, film, television and music.

"As a fighter, you were something spectacular," Obama told Ali, who turned 70 last month. "You shocked the world, and you inspired it, too. And even after all the titles and legendary bouts, you`re still doing it."

A set of gloves Ali used to defeat Floyd Patterson in 1965 in Las Vegas, the first heavyweight title fight in Sin City, sold for USD 1.1 million.

It came with one of the original posters used to promote the fight, which had Muhammad Ali`s chosen name as a subscript to Cassius Clay, the name he was born with. When Ali converted to Islam, many people resisted calling him by his new name.

Ali entered the room and sat at a table with his family before bidding began on the gloves.

PTI



First Published: Sunday, February 19, 2012 - 23:15

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