Muhammad Ali: the purist laureate of a great transformation

Ali has died aged 74. As a white 12 year old boy I idolised him without embarassment or constraint

By Sam Tanenhaus  

Muhammad Ali after his fight against Joe Frazier in ©SVEN SIMON/DPA/PA Images

He was the first famous person I ever saw in the flesh. It was in November 1967, six months after his sentencing to five years in prison for refusing induction in to the US Army at the peak of the Vietnam War. I had just turned 12, and Ali—it was always just “Ali,” just as it was always “Brando” and “Dylan”—visited the…

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