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tv   Charlie Rose  PBS  June 7, 2016 12:00am-1:01am PDT

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>> rose: welcome to the program. tonight an appreciation, a remembrance and an assent of the life of the remarkable muhammad ali. we begin with david remnick, robert lipstyle, bob costa and ellis coast. >> you could not-- three and a half years was enough but for all he knew, it was forever. and for all he knew the supreme court would not side with himnd he might go to prison and his passport might not be returned. he didn't know. he might have been risking it all. as it was, it unit ited out he gave up a whole lot and in a sport spends the rit krilt civil was he is a pretty boy, all flash and dash and that is why george frassier helped to elevate him and george foreman
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but to a lesser extent. >> we continue with the reverend jesse jackson. >> i remember him going to cubament and the american press saying where are you going to cuba. >> don't choose my friends ali was much that way. he chose his own friends and destiny. >> we conclude this evening with what guests on this program over the year. have said about muhammad ali. >> he once said to me you know with the worries i have got, if i had been a white man or businessman, i would be dead. and to be a hero, a protagonist means you live with worry all the time. people who perform great feats always live win tense worry. >> rose: we remember muhammad ali for the hour. next. >> funding for charlie rose is provided by the following:
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captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. >> rose: muhammad ali the boxing champion and one of the most iconic figures in the 20th century for thee decades he suffered from parkinson's disease. the cause of death was septic shock. he was 74 years old. born in jim crowe era louisville, ali was a slender boy with a sharp wit. he began boxing at age 12 and by 18 had won a gold medal at the rome olympics. four years later he earned his first heavyweight title defeating sonny liston in a significant upset. afterwards ali famously said i
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don't have to be who you want me to be. i am free to be who i want. he soon became a master of political prove kaition. he was at once beloved and reviled. his politics invited criticism from conservatives and praise from the day's countercultural liberals. ali refused to be drafted during the vietnam war. a decision that cost him nearly four of his prime fighting years while he was banned from the sport. he also rebuffed racial integration during the civil rights movement. he left christianity for the nation of islam. he fell in and then out with malcolm x. and he changed his name from cassius clay to muhammad ali calling clay my slave name. the press called him in the beginning the louisville lip. he called himself the greatest. his fighting style was unlike any other. jim merry of the los angeles times once said ali didn't have fights, he gave recitals and ali
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famously pioneered the rope a dope, a move in which he would lie against the ropes to conserve energy while his opponent punched himself out. his bat well joe frassier in the fight of the century and his surprise upset of george foreman the thrilla in manila are some of the most memorable moments in sports history. in 1981 at age 39 after winning three heavyweight titles and cementing his boxing legacy ali retired from boxing. in his later years he traveled the world delivering speeches on spirit allity and peace. he also undertook semidiplomattic missions to africa and iraq. he was named one of time magazine's 100 most important people of the 20th century and was awarded medals by two u.s. presidents. while he is deeply admired in the sports world, ali also impacted a wider global history. thomas houser, a biographer once wrote about ali, we should cheferrish the memory of ali as a warrior and gleaming symbol of
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defiance against an unjust social order. joining me now is david remnick, the editor of "the new yorker" and the author of an ali biography called king of the world. robert lipsyte a sports columnist and author of "free to be muhammad ali." bob costas of nbc sports and ellis coast, an author and writer in residence at the aclu. i am very pleased to have them at this table. >> and i will just go around the table and ask them one basic question in terms of what was it that made muhammad ali? >> well. >> rose: muhammad ali. >> in addition to being the greatest athlete of the 21st century which is no small-- 20th century, forgive me. he was a radical. i was a radical. you know, all day long i've been watching tv and the last couple of days. and describing muhammad ali like a teddy beer. you know, somebody quiet and soft and so on. but in his time, in the essential part of his career, he
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was a figure of enormous division in this country because he stood up for what he believed in. it-- there were inconsistencies in what he believed in. he changed his mind about many things. he broke with malcolm x in a way that he came to regret terribly but his stand against the vietnam war, his roll in both the civil rights movement and the black power movement unimagine nbl told's world. to he puts on a t-shirt expresessing solidarity with young black man who had been killed. >> he doesn't take three and a half years, he doesn't lose three and a half years of his livelihood. >> rose: in his prime. >> that say big deal. >> rose: muhammad ali made people brave. whatever it was, they wanted to
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be. >> whatever their hopes, to hear this charming, rather innocent, early on uneducated and ignorant slave slate upon who you could put your magnets like the refrigerator door of whatever it was you needed him for. beyond his inconsistencies they didn't matter. and besides being the most beautiful creature on the planet, the beatles and i saw himming to for the first time, and the five of us just fell back gassing because he was so beautiful. beyond even that, was the fact that he ultimately evolved into somebody who whose proclamations became understandable even to himself. and that was thrilling to see. >> i think what made him so generous was the combination of
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things. was he the greatest athlete of the 20th century. arguably yes. was he a better boxer than willie mays was a baseball player or in his context babe ruth or gretzky a hockey player or jim brown or michael jordan or tiger woods or jack nicholas at their respective best, you could argue that. but nobody had the combination of factors that bob and david just eluded to, and the global reach and the charm and the beauty and the magnetism, the combination of all these things. the others we've mentioned, and there are others beyond that, may have been as committed to social activism in their own way. may have had their own talents but they only had pieces of that puzzle. >> rose: they were never called on to make the sacrifice that they were called on to make in terms of in his prime, and not knowing if he would ever set foot in a boxing ring again. and maybe set foot in a cell somewhere. >> i think quite simply he was the perfect creation of his time. this is the war, the-- he won
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his first championship ten years after brown v board. he came up in segregated louisville. he was the exemplar of that very flawed america that was going through hell at that time. and then he tops it off by becoming an individual who went you said, he lost the best years of his career between the ages of 25 and 29. he didn't just have to come back. he had to re-create himself. i mean his style with which he came back was different than the style that he had when he was forced to. >> how was is different? >> he was-- he was so-- his hand speed was so fast, his foot speed was so fast, he was like a young god when he first came on the scene, later on you saw him doing the rope a dope and all this other stuff. that was the stratd gee of a man whose physical powers had declined. but despite that, so in ali, you
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not only had, you know, this almost perfect athleticism, certainly in his early years, you also had this tragedy, this tragedy first of him losing, as people have said, the prime years of his career. and then later the tragedy of parkinsons and he came to represent something very different in that. and i think robert talked about how he changed and evolved. the interesting thing about muhammad ali's changes, is that he changed as the nation changed. first of all sports columnists were the great arbiters of the sports world. and with very few exceptions including this guy right to my right, bob lipsyte, those guys didn't get muhammad ali at first. jimmy canon, forget dik young but jimmy canon, even red smith who-- a figure of great elegance
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and probity in many things, they were offended by him. >> rose: but i'm interested in sort of the intellectual development, in the whole sense rmed this, show, courage andhe conviction. >> yeah. he invented himself. this is a very american thing. >> rose: this isn't an iq thing. >> but it's more than a courage story. it was a lot of courage but it's more than courage. i mean he came along at a time when a lot of yung black men, i s treating them and theiruntry people. as i said, it's not an accident that the black panthers strange out-- sprang out of that same era. and when they originally organized in california, they were following the cops around to make sure they didn't shoot people. i mean this was-- you know, it was a-- you know, that same era in which shortly after that, watts exploded. and then after that, the whole. >> young black men came home from the civil war. from world war 1, from world war ii, only to discover after these great battles, that home-- . >> rose: had not changed.
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>> had barely changed. >> ellis filled out the point i was making less well which was the combination of qualities is what made him unique and then those qualities intersected with a particular point in history. if abraham lincoln had been president in 1830, would we look upon him as perhaps the greatest president? it's always genius and greatness and context. >> nobody is making the mistake, i hope of mistaking muhammad ali for james bald win or martin king, or malcolm x. but he's drawing, he's hearing, he's listening. he may not be reading. he is absorbing things from the serious culture, and by the way also the nation of islam. >> but malcolm was different. >> also the nation didn't want him to go to war either. you shouldn't discount the importance of the-- . >> rose: the principal influence in the nation, was it mohammed or. >> initially malcolm x, as bob wrote about constantly at the time so well, he did a very
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difficult thing as he broke with malcolm x because the nation and malcolm had broken. sided with the nation of islam and some of its darker forces and he came to regret that deeply. >> i think that maybe his greatest period of growth was when he was not able to box. so for the three and a half years he made most of his money going to college campuses. and in the beginning, he was just awful. i mean, muslim doing ma, and he would say, i smell that bad stuff, and all the pot head was get up and leave. and then he would make some bad joke about checker board romances and the black and white couples. he was terrible. but slowly as time went on and he had to do q & a and had to talk to these college kids, and they asked him questions. that he couldn't answer. and being a quick study, he found out the answer. it was during this period that he really kind of evolved.
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he began to-- he began to understand what he was talking about. and by the end, by the time he came back and boxed again, he was much more fully formed, but let's not forget when he started out, yeah, he was mozart in the ring, right. and the best looking person on the planet. but he said some of the moses stupid things, you know, you ever heard. and he hadn't even fully integrated-- . >> rose: but he said them entertainingly. >> is there such a thing as miracle intelligence. >> he hadn't fully integrated the nation of islam program. so i mean he was still kind of feeling his way. but you know, younger reporters loved him. he filled your copy in a minute. >> rose: even after the summer of the olympics did he have the style. >> if you look at the black and white footage from 1960 in rome, he's 18, 19 years old, he's
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fighting polish fighter, i couldn't recall his name. polish fighter who was in essence a seasoned professional. and the guy looks as if his feet are in cement. ali is so fast, and so quick, and he's utterly bewildered. it's like he's fighting a creature from another planet, the guy from poland. could you see that even then. >> on the other hand, he won. he tells the soviet reporter everything is great in america. we're not living in mud huts and fighting alligators like you people. he's a kid in the olympics. he's a kid even when he wins the title. i mean this is the thing that is so hard for old guys at the table to remember, is this, you know, muhammad ali is becoming something. you know, all these culture stars of the '60s, even martin luther king, jr., remember how young he was leading this movement. how young bob dylan is when he writes a hard rains going to fall. >> a number of things come out
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of the culture of the dozen, of the kind of insult and fast talk t comes out of gorgeous george which is professional wrestling as he is watching on television. he's inventing himself as an american character like annie oakley invented herself. >> rose: that is what is interesting. is he an invented character in part. >> i think it is very true, he was leveraging things from various cultures frrk wrestling culture obviously. i grew up in chicago. and i remember, we used to walk to school, and i was in grade school when he became champ. but we used to walk to school and from school with a group. we called it playing the dozens, but the whole point of that game was to make funny insults as you are walking down the street. >> at a high verbal levelss withness. >> at a fairly high verbal level. even though his iq wasn't tested very high you we vest skilled that at that game. it was a game played all over america. >> rose: tell my how this
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process worked out because it became a staple for him. >> well, i mean some things, his most famous poem, me,ness he wrote it sitting next to mary ann moore, the great poet. >> rose: was she 90. >> she was of an age. but it was established in a lawsuit that that long poem about launching sonny as a satellite was written by a songwriter. >> he performed it with great authenticity. >> as did bob dylan. >> i remember buying a 45, i was 11 i think, it was before he was going to fight sony liston. he was 11 years old, a 45. and on one side was stand by me, his version, ali singing then cassius clay singing stand by me. and the other side was the poem you are referring to, this kid fights great, he's got speed and
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endurance, but if you signed to fight him, increase your insurance. >> i still have the 45. i wish i had a player, to play it on. >> but our radar system picked him up, he's somewhere over in the atlantic who would have thought when they came to the fight that they would witness the launching of a human satellite. that was his take on the fight with liston. or somebody. >> now let me ask another question at this table who is the heavyweight champion of the world. >> only one of us knows. >> some guy named tyson he feury which i'm saying-- what i am saying is. >> is boxing dead? >> look, there are big money eruptions of it. there is the recent mayweather fight and so on. but i think it's become a sport that in a way, to some extent, ali's own-- the only ordinary bet alis as a fighter said he stayed in too long and ended up damaged. that happens to everyone. floyd, paterson. >> rose: at what stage did the
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damage come. >> who knows, because a lot of the damage comes in the gym. but the cliche is that certainly he should have retired after foreman or the third phrasier fight that he went on and on and on because that's what fighters do. that is where the attention is. that is where the money is. >> rose: and i once asked sugar ray leonard why do you do this. he said it's what i do. it's what i know. and he had all the money in the world. >> novelists know when their best novels are behind them. but it's a very rare thing to see a retired novelist. >> look at sugar ray leonard, for example, there was a guy who was an exquisite fighter, very, very handsome. very, very charming. so he has some of the components we're talking about. but absent so many-- so many others. and adding to the puzzle was something that david just mentioned. the combination of circumstances, boxering was mainstream. you take someone like arthur ashe. might be the most impressive person i've ever met in sports. a genuine intlem, highly principled. he was a very good but not
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great, not enduringly great tennis player. and tennis has never meant as much in america as baseball meant in jackie robinson's time and boxing in ali's time. now most americans never have seen floyd mayweather fight not that you would care about floyd mayweather onfielting-- beyond, fighting and he is not all was not an admirable character. but they few ali, and his ken-- . >> rose: sony liston, was he confident or was he scared to death? because he famously said i'm not scared of no man but a crazy man. was that not true too. >> i think that that one of the greatest was that mad scene at the weigh in right before the fight, was fighting sonny. >> i saw that punch maybe 100 times. i was sitting right behind howards couldel who had a moniter. and somewhere around the 99th or a hundredth time i saw the punch.
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>> you can see it, but the phrase was that punch couldn't crush a grape. >> he stole that from jimmy cam canon's line originally. >> rose: that punch couldn't crush a grape. >> it was perfect it could have been perfect. it was short. >> that's what does not. >> they were do leading which doesn't always happen. they were coming towards each other it was a perfect punch. the only problem with sonny. >> liston didn't take a fall. >> i don't think so. but the problem is with sony, you can never be sure that he's operating on the same standards as everybody else. >> enwhen i was doing reporting, believe me, the people in liston's corner, not all of them admirable characters and most of them gone bid time i got there. a lot of mob influence around them. you have to remember, this sport which was so popular in american life was dominatedded by the maf qula. people around rocky morciano, a lot of these people t was not-- don king comes out of a tradition.
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he is not some aberration. so you know, it's interesting also, ali's business background. ali started out by being essentially owned by a sinned kalt-- sinned cat of white businessman in louisville and finally he pushes that aside because the nation comes into the picture. so it's very hard for these fighters to be independent. it's not as if they have somebody from caa or wme. >> there are so many players to this that if we had five hours you couldn't get to all of it. and so much texture to his life. but i think in the broad strokes, he answered from the general public especially from the old line sports writers and from white america, he answered to the satisfaction of most of them the two most important questions. you didn't have to agree with them. he walked the walk. he didn't just talk the talk. could you not deny the integrity and principle and honor behind risking everything for what he
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believed. three and a half years was enough but for all he knew it was forever. and for all he knew, the supreme court would not side with him. and he might eventually go to prison. and his passport might not be returned. he didn't know. he might have been risking it all. as it turned out he gave up a whole lot. and then in a sports sense, the criticism was ah, he's a pretty boy. he's all flash and dash. and that's where joe frasier helped to elevate him and george foreman but to a lesser extent frasier moore, because the forth teud, the toughness, the heart, more than athletic skill was what showed too there. the two principal criticisms crs were digs armed. >> i think are you absolutely right. and i think those fights that came afterwards were kind of a blood redemption and america was satisfied. >> yes. >> rose: satisfied in terms of. >> of what bob was talking about, that the sacrifice was not only money. he was also willing to sacrifice himself.
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>> what is strikes me when i think about the arc of that part of his life, is that in large measure the story of muhammad ali is the story of unfulfilled potential as a boxer because there are those years where you don't know what he would have been doing in the ring. >> beetding everybody. >> for sure but how we have done t how artically he would have triumphed is just the story we'll never know. >> rose: george foreman said recently the history of boxing right there is, you know, joe frasier, muhammad ali and me, telling a huge story. talk about the joe frasier fielts at the garden in which he knocked out. >> i was a little kid. there was no way to watch this. there was no way-- remember these fights were shown only in theaters, unless they were on wide world of sports and costel had them on the weekend but the
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bigger fights were in theaters and you had to have a lot of dough, like 20 or 50 bucks. so i awaited the weeks after that they would show them on abc. there was a sense of mystery around these events. that was such a glamorous event. such an awaited event that life magazine staff photographer in the corner, was frank sinatra. frank sinatra. their staff writing writer for the fight, was one norman mailer who wrote a piece called ego. that is how big a deal this is. we're sitting now in the middle of the nba playoffs. it's really fun to watch. it looks like golden state will probably romp. it's kind of great. but to compare that to ali-frasier one or the gladia tor yal aspect of ali-frasier three which was so brutal that both men who really des piesed each other. frasier really des piesed ali. >> he called him a gorilla. >> ali was-- ali was awful to
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joe frasier. he humiliated him as if show joe frasier were less black. he grew up, a share croppers kid from south car a. he was humiliated by him. and even though frasier lost this fight and couldn't come out, he was essentially blind and his quarterman said no more, he wouldn't sacrifice him to his incredible credited. both men said that they had been essentially near death, that's how brutal this fight was. >> rose: that's what ali said. >> and frasier said of ali, i hit him with shots that would have brought down a building. and ali said that we both came to manila as, you know, glamorous young men and we came back old men. and yet boxers, even the great ones, even the transcend ent one like ali can't stop. they can't stop. >> if you looked at the film or tape of that fight when they wave it off after the 14th round because frasier was blind
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in his left eye and could not see the right hand coming, when they waved it off, all ali could manage to do was barely stand up off his stool to acknowledge that he had won before collapse-- collapsing back down. and i don't think this is legend. i think it's true, that at some point during the fight, and you're right, that frasier had reason to des pies and resent, good reason. he was an admirable man. he wasn't as profound a man in any sense as ali and he didn't have the wherewithal to counter the verbal jabs ali threw at him and he was frustrated by that. but grudgingly ali gave him respect when in the middle of the ring he said, old joe frasier, they told me you were all washed up. and frasier spat back, they told you wrong, pretty boy. and then they could mensed to beat the crap out of each other some more. >> rose: oh boy. but how about terrel and the taunting of terrel, what does that say. >>. >> those were about the refusal to use his name. this happened first with floyd
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paterson. floyd paterson, a lovely man. but you know, like so much of the country, resistant to get with the change in ali's life and identity. he, you know, he refused to call him muhammad ali. and ali in the ring kept screaming what's my name. >> rose: every round would say what's my name? >> it was brutal. he carried him. he kept the fight going the more to punish him worse. >> rose: did you ever call him on that and say why did. >> yeah. and he felt that, and i understood, that floyd was caught up, you know, in the anti-muslim camp and he was representing christianities and america. he wasn't going to allow this muslim, this black muslim, whatever that meant at the time, to represent america. people didn't really want floyd to fight him because they knew
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floyd was going to get beaten. and it was going to push. >> think about what the atmosphere was. when many americans preferred sonny liston, a criminal, all right, a thug, they preferred sonny liston be the heavyweight champion to this brash young fellow. and that was even before he was a ati. they rooted for sonny liston over cassius clay. >> rose: he was cocy. >> and loud. >> i think particularly the three frasier fight brought out the worst and the best. >> rose: the courage. >> the courage, the ability to stand there and take it and give it. but they also as you mentioned, they brought out not only the cruelty, the names that he called him, but also, i mean this was a guy who presented himself as the iconic raceman, the person who is standing up for the dispossessed black america. and as you see in the most stereo typical terms, to call
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flasier and demeaning him for not being classically attractive in the way that europeans found attractive. >> rose: is it fair to say that in the end, not this end of his death, but in his later years that all these people came to respect him and admire him? >> joe frasier not fully, no. >> i don't think so. >> no. >> i mean i think there were periods where joe kind of felt he had to, you know, give lip service because, you know, he was iconic. and also of two of them were so joined in history, you don't want to-- you know, fred as stair is not going to put down ginger rogers. but i think that joe was always hurt, and i think there is tremendous mystery, which i don't fully understand, of-- i mean i f pri to ask him, how could you have been such a jerk about that. and he said well, it's box office. show that makes it even worse, if you didn't even feel strongly
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about it i mean how could you demean him, joe frasier on those bases. i never had a satis factory answer. >> the heavy weighted championship in this country, not any longer but it used to have enormous symbolic value. jack johnston said and did things that would have gotten him lynched if he hadn't been the heavyweight champion that is how hocialght america was at this point. joe louis was-- coached by his handlers not to say and do things so he wouldn't alienate white america. so he could be the great patriotic crossover figure. floyd paterson was endorsed by the president of the united states, john f kennedy over liston because he represented a kind of civil right, nash yent civil rights view as opposed to this figure who had been in jail and really had a horrible growing up. we referred to him, i don't love the term, thug.
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>> you know the context in which i meant it. >> i do. i absolutely do. this is the way he was viewed as much. and-- as such, so all these people represented things. they had symbolic weight on their shoulder. jack demp see, same thing. he was used to fielt black fighters. and weirdly for a century, that office,ed heavy wet championship of the world carried enormous political symbolic and eventually racial weight. now it means nothing. >> rose: okay g ahead. >> in 1971, first fight, i was a freshman at syracuse and i went to the loews theater in syracuse as david describes. and the ticket wasn't $20, it was $5. >> in syracuse. >> it was $5. and the crowd was primarily black. but the whole thing was split along political lines. peement who were more conservative including some black fans rooted for frasier and mat jort in that audience
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rooted for ali. i loved ali but i felt for frasier for the reasons you mentioned tvmentd was clear to me that he was being used as a foil and he was a terrific fighter in his own way. he wasn't a transendent figure like ali. i felt for him. i rooted for ali but i didn't feel that frasier ever got his due. >> and he won that night. >> he won that shall-- he won that night. and when he knocked him down, though, in the 15th round, talk about a shot that would have brought down a building. this was a perfect left hook that he brought from here, connected with full force and it's one thing to get up from that, which i'm sure frasier walked to his corner thinking he isn't getting up. he got right up. there was symbolism in that. he knocked him down, he couldn't tter of how much punishment he could take. he had been knocked off his feet but as soon as his ass hit the floor he bounced right back up. and i think a lot of people, even though they were disappointed ali had lost that night, they took something from that. >> 100 percent. >> ali was quoted as saying that
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i said i was the greatest, not the smartsest. >> and clearly he was nobody's intellectual but i sort of end where i began which is that i done think you can think of a person who better represented that time, that era. certainly not an african-american who better represents that time and all the contradictions, all of the turmoil, you will all of the anger. and ultimately the transendence of muhammad ali. >> rose: what can we say about the dignity of the last years? >> i think that one of the things he really did offer is this sense of bravery and hope was the gallantry of the patient. i mean i was kind of overwhelmed. he went out as long as he could. maybe a little too much. but he went out as long as he could and showed himself to the world. >> rose: people have said and been repeated, you know, it was like the gods had dealt the
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cruelest blow to him. >> have i said that. >> come on. >> and i'm retracting it now, charlie. it just seems a little much. but yes. here was the most-- here was-- here was the most mobile, ger ilous person on the planet. you wouldn't publish a story in which he was ironically struck mute and immobile. >> the tragic irony of it, but then he was able as he was so often able to do, turn a sirks around and he displayed as you said a different type of gallantry which further endured him to people. >> an immense kindness. i was lucky he happened to be in town, his last wife, for years his wife, and a wonderful relationship. and this book of mine was published years okay and they happened to come to this book party. by this time both my parents were in wheelchairs and my
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father from park insons, my mother from ms was thankfully still alive. and i could barely speak, i was so overcome by the confluence of their presence. and ali goes over to my father. and he says parkinson sucks, doesn't it? and he was so sweet to everybody, you know, flirting with the women, passing, you know, kind of ragging on the guys. he could barely speak. it was an immense kindness to him. and people would see him in airports. and he could-- he couldn't speak at all and it was as if they were approaching the beuda. so he went from this electrifying, controversial, even devicive figure at the age of 24 to something entirely different, immobile, almost silent in the last decades of his life. no novelist could make up this. >> and it was a tonic moment and you got it at the opening ceremony in atlanta in 96y when
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he stepped out of the shadows trembling. and i think everyone all at once, no matter where they came from on the spectrum they all instantly got it. here was this guy, not only the most beautiful and the most loquacious but obviously a vein man who had put the vanity aside and was willing to present himself to the world in this way thravment was as much of a triumph in its own fashion as any triumph he had in the ring and it cemented the whole thing in one special moment rrs i totally agree. it was the full arc of the life that we are all mourning. >> consumers love these kinds of stories. the god-like figure brought to earth, humbled. and then who has become humble and graceful. we love those kinds of stories. >> you know, i think we would all feel the same-- to be not cynical, he did help and participated in the clang in the country. and yet in the last two years we've seen the kind of raise
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incidence that have never gone away having to do with the police and young black men in this country. racism hasn't disappeared. we don't live in post racial america. all of that is nonsense. and yet some-- and yet. >> yet the president of of the united states who gave tribute to muhammad ali after his death is african-american. so if is a very flex. >> freedom was give tone george bush. >> to say that racism hasn't gone away is not to say things haven't immensely changed. >> he participated in that. and i think for a lot of people, helped bring it along, because not everybody responds to the novels of jane bald win or siferl rights leader. sometimes they respond to pop culture figures who make change more available to them. i get it through the example of ali rather than maybe through a speech of malcolm x or martin luther quing, jr. >> the reason-- sports have influence. >> they can.
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>> lately, i don't know. not much. >> rose: bob, this is what you said finally, an opera-- operetic life and it means this about him. i don't have to be who you want me to be, i'm free to be who i want. >> which was his athletic decoration and it fook many years to understand exactly what he said. but the one thing that never changed from the first moment i ever saw him to the last was this kind of sense of humanity. that he had. i mean he could give you a hug from across the room. something kind of glowed. something emanated out of him. he would really feel that he cared about you. and he loved you. and i'm not so sure that he didn't. >> even when he was the angry young man with much justification and compelling in large part for that reason, he still accommodated all the
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autograph requests no matter who they came from. he was a gar ilous and pleasing presence even when he was a young man and in the midst of all that social turmoil. >> i'm not sure any of us are ever free to be just what we want to be. but i do think that ali struggled with that in a much more operetic way than other people. and he symbolized so much that touched so many people at different times. and i think he did hit the arc of his life had a lot to say about the evolution of america as he went through it. america was changing. in ways that were profound. honestly we're still's very, very imperfect society on i could go on listening for three or four hours. but it has evolved and i think what we appreciate about ali is that he gives us a tably on which to see that evolution of
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america. >> rose: thank you ellis, thank you bob, thank you david, is thank you bob, back in a moment. >> joining me now is reverend jesse jackson. is he as you know a civil rights activist and founder of the rainbow/push coalition. mi pleased to have him back on this program. reverend jackson, you know this as well as anyone. what should we be emphasizing as we appreciate the life of muhammad ali? >> well, the fact he was a championship boxer, he honed his skills but the context from which he arose is as important to me as the legend that he became. he comes from a louisville that was racially segregated by culture and religion. as soon as i put more emphasis on its horses than its black cities, a city where people had to pay taxes and didn't have the right to vote. a city where black soldiers had
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to sit behind lots of prisoner ofs of war in american military bases. he did not adjust to segregation. and he fought back with all of his might inside and outside the ring. >> rose: you said he was radically mall adjusted meaning it was to those things that were not right that he did not adjust. >> yeah, people whose backs are against the wall try to really have three options. one option is you can adjust as most people do, they go to the back of the bus. they find their place, to get them a job. they go to church, to school. they find the place or you can resist. be angry but do nothing, or you can resist. a few people resist so ali and dr. king was in that generation, at that level of people who close to resist, not just resent and not to adjust. >> there are photographs that are appearing over the weekend of dr. king and muhammad ali together. what was the relationship?
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>> it was a fantastic one. i remember so well, april 4th, 1967, splaft, we were in new york, along with-- bernard lee, and ali's lawyer and dr. king's lawyer preparing his speech for the riverside church that night, the anti-vietnam war speech. and they asked jim brown and all toi stop by. and dr. king was on the serious attack for the antiwar position. they found a kind of kinship, a kind of shared pain and yet a kind of shared joy because they both felt they had truth on their side but they were both willing to pay a big price. but ultimately dr. king had lost his life about it, ali lost a part of his career about it. both from highly principalled, highly committed men who found in each other a kind of kinship. >> and that transended their separate religions. >> well, after all judaism
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and-- they served the same god. and while both of them had different views of religion, they are both realized the brokenness. you know charlie, i said a few days ago i was going down the street the other day, down the sidewalk, walking and i saw where the sidewalk had broken and in the crack grass was still coming. the sidewalk was designed to keep the dirt covered up and keep the mud away but in the cracks life came. and out of those cracks came muhammad ali. out of those cracks came some of our most ingenuous people who just refused to surrender. they fought back against the odds. >> rose: how was he, i'm not sure how well you knew him under these circumstances. the falling out with mall con x, when malcolm x left the nation of islam. was that difficult for him? >> well, it was, i'm sure, because they were quite friendly. i think malcolm did the most to convert him to the islam
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religion. because he grew up under such hostile white bigoted christianity. and that was a fact on him. malcolm left, he did not leave. finally he left and became a sunni muslim. he became a more mainstream muslim. but both of them had a high degree of racial and social consciousness. one of the guys in this mix of it all after ali took his risk and dr. king took his risk and both rebelled in their own way, he did not get back in the ring through louisville or through kentucky. the controversial southern segregation state. not new york, not illinois, not california. a black politician named leroy johnson in atlanta georgia, the first black to be in the legislation, reconstruction 1992, he asked the governor to give him a mission, to negotiate ideal and leroy johnson negotiated aid deal to get ali back in the ring in laibt
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georgia and that night was a coming out night after three years of ekes il. leroy johnson deserves much credit for being the bridge between a band ali in the ring again, leroy johnson. >> rose: what what was he like after the fight. >> very high, very effervescence. it is interesting, you and i call a champion inside the ring, he took his skill set seriously. in the early '60s he was not identifieds with siflt rights movement, he was not involved in the sit-ins in the 19 of 0st. he was honing his skill, or the freedom rides of 62 eyore birming ham in 63y or selma am 65y for fair housing. he was honing his skill. but his subbing sces illuminated the darkness. he became a source of joy for us because he was winning the big battles. and then when he became a principal give up your life and money for, to end the war, he became not just a champion in
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the ring but a hero beyond the ring. i think his championship fights is that he-- the champions when they win the big match, the people put them on their shoulders. you are the champ. and heroes win, they put the people on their shoulders. he was the hero. they put a nation of people, if not a world on his shoulders and fought with great grace and dignity. >> rose: more than one time he felt it was his obligation to reach out to those that supported him and tell them how much he supported them. >> well, that reminded you of another boxer, named nelson mandela. he was a boxer, a fan of alis and came to the state and looked for ali immediately when he got here. i remember him going to cuba, aned american press said why you would go to cub blanca you were a friend. i was in jail castro was my all li and now i'm out and he is still my ati. he was much that way.
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he chose his own friends and des anyoney and in the end his own sense private dignity and social justices had prevailed. his views about the war and unnecessary wars, his view about black, whites, relations, his view about affirming all religions. the idea that here we are today about to go into another season attacking muslims and mexicans by race. what a dip we are taking in our body politics. ali was way above that. that's controversial. >> reverend jackson, thank you so much. it's a pleasure to see you on this program. >> thank you, charlie. >> rose: back in a moment, stay with us. >> we continue now, a remembrance and appreciation of muhammad ali with a long at what guests on this program have said about him over the years. >> and the interpretation of ali is the complex simplicity of
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greatness. and how greatness is not this wonderful, eso terric elusive god-like feature that only the special among us will ever taste, you know, it's something that truly exists. in all of us. sitting with ali, sitting with nelson mandela. it's very simple. there is what i believe. and i'm willing to die for it. >> what do you want people to believe this 22 year love affair with all of its frustrations with it? >> i would hope that not only will they see what an incredible athlete muhammad ali was, but the kind of human being that he was. we had a chabs to spend a lot of time with ali and actually we did stay for awhile after the
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cut. and we weren't allowed to shoot the fight. >> but we were able to focus on ali, that six-week period, although i wasn't there for the whole time, ali was just ak sebles. allowed us to come in and would just talk to us, and angelo dunde his trainer would be in the background and say ali, cut, you have to get back in the gym and ali would say no, this is better than any training in the gym. i'm training in a different way. >> muhammad ali was about a 7-1 underdog. nobody thought he would have a chance against george foreman who was then supposed to be indestructible. and it was the famous fight of the rope a dope. when ali realized that foreman is going to cut the ring on him and he had to retreevment and he went to the ropes and that is the worst thing you can do as a fighter.
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sort of the halfway house of being down on the canvas but he used it like a spired. >> you said that he would almost lean back almost so that he was going to touch the. >> i wrote about it. >> it is as if he is trying to find-- and george foreman just leaned back and suck add way. i shouted at nor man, he was sitting next to me, it's a fix. because it seems as though he had to go down in the first or second round. and then in the sixth round, you could see that foreman sort of punched himself out. and i had seen a-- i went to see, there was a lot of talk about-- they all soccer matches and they are witch doctors and they are able show to fix the outcome. and they had sent a woman to see george foreman with trembling hands. if she touched him, foreman was doomed. and i remember in the sixth
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round when foreman had to go down, i shouted again at norman mailer, the woman with the trembling hands has got him. hi never seen a more confused look across someone's facial in my life. >> there was a moment, hi worked on this for about five, six months. >> rose: ali had doubts that codo it. >> he did not want to do it at first. because his hands were shaking and everything. and i said there is it. the whole world, this is the payback. you know. and i told ali about a week before, he had a big mouth, we have told everybody. no, no, seriously. and the thing was, the thing was they had told me down when they sent foreman to see what he was doing and will do. they said if any of this leaks out, we have got somebody else in the limelight. but you know, it was a moment.
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and after the president came and we met him and he put his hands on his shoulder and said ali, looking eye-to-eye. ali, tell me-- tell me who going to like the-- when i saw you i cried. paterson refused to call him muhammad ali. he kept calling him by his slave name, cassius clay, so if in the fight he said i'm going to not only beat him, i am going whop him, what is my name, what is my name. a year later, we went to floyd paterson to convince him who had every right to dislike muhammad ali. and we convinced him to make a stand and to say in eggs quier magazine-- "esquire" magazine that he was for, that he was defending muhammad ali. so this was a shot where we got him into the studio. and we kept, i told mu hamad to keep his mouth shut.
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and floyd defended him. what was interesting, when he showed up, they hadn't seen each other since the time of the fight. and i was saying mu hamad, floyd's coming. is he a good kid, you know, and he's really going way out of his way to do this. he is defending you, you know, don't be a wise ass, be a good guy. >> he said yeah, yeah, yeah, i will be all right. and floyd comes in. it was at midnight, he came in all covered up because it was a strange kid. and he ali was maybe 70 feet a watc how are he going to rect a. he walked out and he spread out his arms and he walked to him and he hugged him and they both hugged each other. and they both cried. >> joe louis in my mind was the best boxer ever but ali was a little too big for boxing am you have to rank him somewhere out of boxing because an actor would see ali and become a better actor, or a swimmer. this man was probably bigger than sports it self. so i don't rank him with boxers.
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>> rose: what did he have? >> i don't know. he had something that it's hard to explain. but i can tell you this, he was a hero because he sacrificed so much and with those sacrifices comes something special to you. like a halothat nobody can see. and makes you a little extra special. >> rose: muhammad ali, dead at age 74. for more about this program and earlier episodes visits us online at and charlie captioning sponsored by rose communications captioned by media access group at wgbh
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>> rose: funding for "charlie rose" has been provided by:
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