"The Greatest." Muhammad Ali gave himself this title more than 50 years ago, and because it was true, it stuck. To quote "The Greatest," "It ain't bragging if you can back it up."
Friday night, "The Greatest" died from respiratory complications related to Parkinson's, the degenerative disease he battled for 30-plus years. He was 74 years old.
In the 48 hours since his death, Muhammed Ali tributes have proliferated on TV, online, and in the papers. Without intending to, I've watched, followed, and read them all. This is not because I'm a boxing aficionado or even a moderately sporty gal.
It's because I am someone who cannot separate the art from the artist. If you're like me, you can hear the voice of a great singer, but if said signer also beats up his girlfriend or doesn't tip waiters, you can't respect it.
I grieved Prince's death not just because he was a great musician, but because he was a stealth philanthropist. I grieved Elizabeth Pena's death not just because she was a great actress, but because she tackled important roles that pushed against the boundaries of race and gender. And I grieved Selena's death not just because she had a beautiful voice and celebrated Mexican music and culture, but because she was a loving daughter, sister, and wife.
And so it is with Ali. I grieve his death not just because he was "The Greatest" boxer, but because he was a spectacular human being, and because he leaves us, in his wake, a legacy of empowerment, compassion, and appreciation for both our differences and similarities.
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