Muhammad Ali's funeral service details announced; Laila Ali posts tribute

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Tuesday, June 7, 2016
Muhammad Ali dead at 74
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Marcus Solis reporting

PHOENIX, Arizona -- The day before his star-studded funeral, members of Muhammad Ali's Islamic faith will get their chance to say a traditional goodbye to the champ.

Bob Gunnell, a spokesman for Ali's family, announced Monday that a Jenazah, a traditional Muslim funeral service, will be held at Freedom Hall at noon Thursday. It will be open to all.

They chose the venue both because it seats 18,000 and because it holds historical significance for the hometown hero. Ali fought, and won, his first professional fight there in 1960.

PHOTOS: Muhammad Ali through the years

Gunnell announced further funeral details at a news conference Monday.

Speaking at the funeral on Friday will be representatives of multiple faiths, including Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Mormonism and Catholicism. They will be followed by Ali's wife, Lonnie Ali; daughter Maryum Ali; actor Billy Crystal; sportscaster Bryant Gumbel; Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and King Abdullah II of Jordan.

Gunnell said that the others are relatives or friends of Ali: cousins John Grady and Jan Wadell, nephew Ibn Ali, former brother-in-law Komawi Ali and family friend John Ramsey.

Actor Will Smith, who portrayed Muhammad Ali in the movie "Ali," and former world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis are among eight pallbearers for Ali's memorial service this week in Louisville.

Also serving is Jerry Ellis, brother of Jimmy Ellis, who was Ali's former sparring partner and former world heavyweight champion.

The president of Turkey and king of Jordan will also join the long line of world leaders, religious figures and superstars set to speak at Muhammad Ali's funeral.

California imam and scholar Zaid Shakir will preside over the service at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville. President Bill Clinton will deliver a eulogy. The Dalai Lama was invited, but sent regrets that he will be unable to attend.

In the mist of preparing for her father's funeral, Laila Ali, one of Muhammad Ali's daughters, continues to post touching photo tributes, including ones from when she was first born.

Ali says she'll miss her legendary father deeply, but doesn't feel alone in her grief because "the whole world is sad."

Laila Ali tells NBC's "Today" show Monday that her father is "not suffering anymore." When asked whether he had grown weary of fighting the condition, she said death was one of the things her father feared and "he definitely wouldn't want to just move on."

She says she'll remember him as "a loving father," who "always puts children first." She says she just told her own children about their grandfather's death Monday morning.

Laila Ali, a former boxing champion herself, says she shares her father's trademark confidence.

Aretha Franklin, a longtime friend of Muhammad Ali, also reminisced on her friendship with the legendary boxer.

Franklin remembered the first time she met Muhammad Ali, before he was famous. She was preparing for a concert in Los Angeles, and she recalled a man yelling, "I'm the greatest, I'm the greatest!"

"I was saying, 'Who is he? Who is this guy?'" she recalled in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday. "Of course, later we all became aware of who he was and what he was about."

Franklin said the pair had a "beautiful relationship," and paid tribute to her late friend, who died Friday at age 74 after suffering with Parkinson's disease for years.

Although they were in opposite fields, Ali and Franklin collaborated through the years, at charities and at shows, and she said she went to almost all his fights. Franklin, also 74, recalled a man who was "full of fun, really full of fun." One of his loves was magic, she said, and he loved to watch it performed, or perform it for others.

Ali the private man was not much different from the public figure. "What everyone saw was exactly who he was at the time that you saw it," she said.

That extended to his activism, Franklin said.

"Ali was certainly not one to be quiet about his feelings. I think he was a very strong example straight across the board in terms of what he felt were human rights and civil rights; that's just who he was," she said.

Franklin said she hadn't seen her friend in recent years, but he remained in her prayers. She praised his wife, Lonnie, for her devoted care of the boxing great.

"When the glory days are gone and the applause has died down ... she was the bare bones of who really cared and who was going to stand with you all the way," she said.

As far as her friend, Franklin said: "I don't think there will be another Ali.

"He was like an original, like a Rembrant or a Van Gogh, or a Degas, and certainly as priceless."

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