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Thousands bid adieu to Muhammad Ali at his memorial service

Speaking at Muhammad Ali's memorial service, his daughter Rasheda says, 'Until we meet again, fly butterfly, fly'

Louisville: Thousands of people have gathered for a huge public memorial service honouring Muhammad Ali in his home city of Louisville, Kentucky.

Muhammad Ali's daughter Rasheda Ali-Walsh during his memorial service at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky on Friday. Pics/AP,PTI
Muhammad Ali's daughter Rasheda Ali-Walsh during his memorial service at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky on Friday. Pics/AP,PTI

Some 15,000 tickets sold out for the inter-faith service at the KFC Yum! Centre, which is being broadcast to millions of viewers around the world.

The crowd broke into applause as former US president Bill Clinton walked into the arena holding hands with Ali's widow Lonnie. Ali died in Phoenix, Arizona, last Friday aged 74.

Muhammad Ali's daughter Maryum speaks at his memorial service
Muhammad Ali's daughter Maryum speaks at his memorial service

The three-time world heavyweight champion had been admitted to hospital with a respiratory condition having suffered with Parkinson's disease for 32 years.

'Ali, Ali' chants were all over the streets
Tens of thousands of people lined the streets of Louisville for a funeral procession, with chants of "Ali! Ali!" heard along the 19-mile route.

Former US president Bill Clinton delivers a eulogy during the memorial service for Muhammad Ali at the KFC Yum! Center on Friday. Pic/AFPFormer US president Bill Clinton delivers a eulogy during the memorial service for Muhammad Ali at the KFC Yum! Center on Friday. Pic/AFP

Hollywood actor Will Smith — who played Ali in the 2001 film about the boxer — and former world heavyweight boxing champions Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson were among the pallbearers at the funeral. A private burial took place at Cave Hill Cemetery.

Friday marks the second day of services honouring Ali. A traditional Islamic prayer ceremony — known as a Jenazah — was held on Thursday at Freedom Hall, where Ali made his professional debut with victory over Tunney Hunsaker in 1960.

Pallbearers Mike Tyson (extreme left), Lennox Lewis, Mike Moorer (second from right) and Will Smith (extreme right)
Pallbearers Mike Tyson (extreme left), Lennox Lewis, Mike Moorer (second from right) and Will Smith (extreme right)

Imam Zaid Shakir welcomed the congregation on behalf of the Ali family and "the home of the people's champion", prompting chants of "Ali! Ali" from the crowd.

Dr Kevin Cosby, Protestant minister of Louisville, delivered a rousing speech as he told the congregation: "Before James Brown said 'I'm black and I'm proud', Muhammad Ali said 'I'm black and I'm pretty.' Black and pretty was an oxymoron."He dared to love black people at a time when black people had problems loving themselves."

University of Louisville student Natasha Mundkur (19) gets emotional
University of Louisville student Natasha Mundkur (19) gets emotional

Muslim scholar Dr Timothy Gianotti, an adviser to the Ali family, said: "To the family, to Lonnie, to everyone here, serving Muhammad Ali has been one of the greatest privileges of my life."

David Beckham, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Billy Crystal were among the guests who attended the star-studded memorial. Malcolm X's daughter Attallah Shabazz fought back tears as she addressed the crowd before receiving a standing ovation.

Billy Crystal Billy Crysta

She said: "I ask all of you gathered here and from afar to muster up a bit of air to me and the memory of Muhammad Ali.

"Muhammad Ali was the last of a fraternity of amazing men bequeathed to me."

US president Barack Obama and his wife Michelle sent a letter to be read at the service by White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

Ali's widow Lonnie took to the stage amid chants of "Ali! Ali!". She said her family were "humbled" by the "heartfelt expressions of love" from around the world since his death.

Muhammad Ali's beloved Louisville town mourns
"Muhammad never stopped loving Louisville and we know Louisville loved Muhammad," she said. Two of Ali's nine children, daughters Maryum and Rasheda, spoke at the service.

In a direct message to her father, Rasheda said: "You were the greatest father to us. It was God's will to take you home. You shook up the world in life. Now you're shaking up the world in death. Until we meet again, fly butterfly, fly."

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