This is a drybrush watercolor illustration, about 16" square, that I did for my portfolio around 1980, never intending it for publication because it was copied from a photograph. I always kept it because of my admiration and affection for the man himself: his courage throughout his life, his love of humanity, his refusal to bow to authority, critics, or the media -- as well as being the greatest in his sport.
My dad was a boxing fan, and I grew up watching Ali's fights as well as listening to the media interviews, most notably with Howard Cosell, who continually baited Ali and used him to further his own career - I thought those interviews were harder to watch, and crueler, than the boxing matches. I was a Vietnam War protester and greatly admired Ali's refusal to fight, in spite of what it cost him. It was with real sadness that we learned of his Parkinson's diagnosis, but he conducted himself to the end of his life with dignity and continued to try to help people in need. It's easy to be cynical about celebrities, and the way the public falls in love -- and just as rapidly discards them. I always felt Muhammad Ali deserved respect, and he showed -- at a time when it was even harder for African-Americans -- that personal dignity, even with humor, could be maintained in the face of all kinds of criticism and attack. He must have suffered a great deal, especially in his later years, and yet he will be remembered not for that, but for what he did with his life and what he stood for.