Obama to Ali: `You shocked the world`

Updated: Feb 19, 2012, 14:31 PM IST

Las Vegas: Muhammad Ali turned 70 last month, but the world`s most famous people are still wishing the boxer known simply as "The Greatest" a happy birthday.

"Happy birthday, champ," President Barack 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 said. "You shocked the world, and you inspired it, too. And even after all the titles and legendary bouts, you`re still doing it."

About 2,000 people attended the gala to celebrate Ali`s life and 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.

NFL great Jim Brown said Ali represents the greatest of America, because at one time people only recognised his athletic ability and didn`t like what he had to say. That changed over time, he said.

"America started with slavery and ended up with a black president," Brown said. "Muhammad Ali was a part of that ... a big part."

Ali`s wife, Lonnie Ali, told the star-studded crowd that her husband`s greatest wish has always been to inspire and help others. She said he feels that his life really began when he retired from the ring.

"Muhammad`s gift of inspiration is timeless, and now more relevant than ever," she said after being introduced by music icon Quincy Jones.

Lonnie Ali introduced a video montage of her husband`s life, including clips from his work with children. Guests arriving on the red carpet included former NFL player Franco Harris, supermodel Cindy Crawford, actor Samuel L. Jackson, Ali`s children and grandchildren and Chuck Wepner, who fought Ali in 1975 for the heavyweight title and lost.

"I would go anywhere in the world for Muhammad Ali`s birthday," Wepner said.

One of Ali`s daughters, Rasheda Ali, said the gala is a chance for friends, family and A-list celebrities who look up to her father to show their respect for his life and legacy as a humanitarian. In return, she said he`ll be honored to see them there.

Bureau Report