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Musicians Remember Muhammad Ali as “The Greatest”

Muhammad Ali is best remembered as one of the greatest boxers of all time. He floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. Somehow, he was able to engage in violent, man-to-man combat with the grace of a ballet dancer. But boxing is not the sole, or even the most important, legacy that Ali left behind when he died last Friday at the age of 74.

The man formerly known as Cassius Clay was fearless both inside and outside of the ring. He censured wars, converted to Islam in a xenophobic country, and championed his black identity in a Jim Crow America. He also had a “doggerel verse”—as The New Yorker’s David Remnick described it in his excellent tribute—and rockstar braggadocio that made him a revered figure amongst musicians, too (he said things like, “This guy must be done / I’ll stop him in one”). Unsurprisingly, some of the artists that came up admiring Ali took to the Internet to eulogize him.

On his website, Bob Dylan wrote: “If the measure of greatness is to gladden the heart of every human being on the face of the earth, then he truly was the greatest. In every way he was the bravest, the kindest and the most excellent of men.”

Ali features in Dylan’s 1964 song, “I Shall Be Free No 10” (“I was shadowboxing earlier in the day/I figured I was ready for Cassius Clay”) and “The Greatest” appeared with Dylan onstage in 1975—as NME remembers.

The night that Ali died, Paul Simon announced his passing while singing the Simon & Garfunkel classic, “The Boxer.” “I’m sorry to tell you this in this way, but Muhammad Ali passed away,” Simon told the audience before singing the song’s last verse. “I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains.”

Paul McCartney also lauded Ali on his website, declaring: “I loved that man…Besides being the greatest boxer, he was a beautiful, gentle man with a great sense of humour who would often pull a pack of cards out of his pocket, no matter how posh the occasion, and do a card trick for you.”

Several other prominent artists remembered Ali via Twitter:

Also unsurprisingly, given Ali’s humanist tendencies, one of his final tweets was in celebration of another we lost recently. Rather than make mention of Prince’s music, though, the boxer pointed to his character, and that speaks volumes:

Have any salient memories of Muhammad Ali? Let us know about them in the comments below.

Image: Mark and Colleen Hayward/Hulton Archive

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