ONCE A CHAMPION... ALWAYS A CHAMPION
For me, yesterday was a day to go down memory lane. Every six months, or so, I have lunch with the first man I shared an office with when I came to California, almost 50 years ago.
We do what a couple of guys who have been blessed for the most part for over 8 decades, we reminisce. We talk about both our successes and our failures. What we mostly talked about are the wonderful memories of people who have played a role in our lives.
Artie Price, my dear friend is successful and ebullient, he founded MTM Productions with Mary Tyler Moore. Artie who is blessed with a wonderful memory for places, faces, and dates pointed out that over 400 people had been alongside us in our days working with MCA. Today, counting us, there seems to be only 4 left.
Now, I don't want you to get the idea that this is a column of sadness. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have a lot for which to be thankful. For example, I have two great kids, a super son-in-law and 4 wonderful grand children.
So, instead, this is a column of reflection and appreciation.
After dining with Artie, I watched the first Baseball Game of the season at the Marlins new Florida as the Fish met with the Saint Louis Cardinals. The most natural thing was to have a legendary sports figure connected with the Miami region throw out the first ball.
The choice was simple ... Muhammad Ali!
Ali, after his Olympic Victory trained professionally for the first time and also a great number of his fights at the 5th Street Gym (see Ferdie Pacheco's Tales of the 5th Street Gym). Here, under the tutelage of Chris and Angelo Dundee, he honed his skills... plus under the watchful caring eye of Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, Cassius Clay became the Heavyweight Champion of the World.
Eventually, the world was to get to know him as Muhammad Ali.
Ali, who has been called by many "The Greatest" today, continues to fight the biggest battle he's ever had, inside, or outside of the ring. He is suffering from the devastating ravages and the debilitation of Parkinson's disease.
Sure he looked tired and weak. At this stage of his disease, he personifies what his body has gone through. I was with him for many of his fights. I was there when he lost to Joe Frazier the first time, March 8,1971. He was strong and strapping.
I was also there in the Bahamas when he lost his last fight to Trevor Berbick in a fight that never deserved to be made. We, at ringside, realizing his skills had eroded, openly cried for we knew we were witnessing the passage of an era.
At that time, my partner in Satellite TV, Phil Gillan, said it best, "there will never be another like him". Ali was an unusual combination... wit, wisdom, showmanship and athletic skill.
As he was driven around the Miami infield waving to the crowd, I thought to myself how wonderful his family has to be. Understand, despite all the years of working with him, I have never met his present wife.
It is obvious she understands her man. ... A champion who craves the adulation of the crowd and always has given them his best.
Unlike others who felt sorry to see him in his present state, I have a different mind set. Sure, we all want to remember our icons they way they looked at the height of their popularity. It hurts when we see them, pale, drawn, wan and depending on others. In seeing Ali, we feel no different... but the Champion by being in public is doing a great deal of good.
Ironically, my feelings are different. I recognize his condition and I regret what he is going through. However, I realize the contribution he is making to the necessary awareness of Parkinson's.
Ali, in a very public way, has joined Michael J. Fox who is waging his own battle against the disease they both suffer.
Michael has appeared before Congress, been on many Talk Shows, given countless media interviews, and all in the effort to both create awareness and raise much needed money for research as we seek a solution and hopefully a cure. He has raised millions and yet millions more are needed.
Ali, no longer possesses the voice that once brought about laughter and tears with his poems chastising his opponents. A deeply religious man, with his presence and without the necessity of speaking out loud, sends an important message. The message is three-fold: this is what the disease can do to an unsuspecting and healthy body... none of us are immune ... and only research funded by donations can bring about a cure.
For nearly 20 years, my friend of over 60 years, Allan Rice has battled on. Like Ali, with his presence he serves us notice that we must win this Battle. It is not for a Championship Belt, but rather it is for a better life for all.