London: Actor Liam Neeson has paid tribute to his "hero" Muhammad Ali and recalled his fond memories of two meetings with the legendary boxer.
The 63-year-old "Taken" actor had been a fan of the boxer, who died on June 3 at the age of 74 from "septic shock due to unspecified natural causes", since he was a child with his own aspirations of a sporting career, reported Female First.
"He was my hero from when I was a young amateur boxer, and schoolboy, back in Ireland. "I'll never forget hearing that he had beaten the unbeatable Sonny Liston. It was 1964 and it was a cold wet February in Ballymena. As I walked to school that morning, my feet didn't seem to touch the ground: my mind was an excited blur, because somehow the world had changed with that victory," Neeson said.
The actor may have given up on his boxing dream but he still admired Ali, and will always treasure their meetings, in 1981 and 2011. "I got to meet him and before he had his last fight in 1981. Not knowing what to say and with my knees shaking, I said, 'Muhammad, I love you.' He gave me a hug and then signed an autograph for my father," Neeson said.
"I met him again in 2011. He was unable to speak with his advanced Parkinson's. I put my hand over his and whispered 'I love you'. His wife said to me 'He knows who you are'. I have met and known quite a few movie stars, male and female over the years. None can compare with Ali's charisma. He was a giant of humanity. As a people, we are all in bereavement," the actor added.