One of the cornerstones of Muhammad Ali’s life was those in his corner, both in and out of the ring. Ali was a man who loved everyone and had friends everywhere he went, but the select few in his inner circle helped shape the fabric of his life.
Ali’s father, Cassius Clay, Sr. and mother, Odessa Clay were large influences on his life. His mother played a big part in building up Ali’s spirituality and was a big supporter throughout his boxing career. Ali’s father worked as a painter and inspired Ali in the arts. Ali’s younger brother Rahaman was a lifetime companion.
Muhammad Ali had nine children: (from youngest to oldest) Asaad, Hana, Miya, Khalilah, Laila, Muhammad Ali Jr., Jamillah, Rasheeda and Maryum.
He married Lonnie Ali on November 19, 1986 at a small family ceremony in Louisville, Ky.
In the beginning of his career, figures like Alberta Jones, Joe Martin, and Fred Stoner Sr. set Muhammad Ali up for success. Ali simultaneously trained with Martin and Stoner at the beginning of his career, and his early style included influences from both. Angelo Dundee and Drew “Bundini” Brown were stalwart supporters in the ring throughout his professional career, with Bundini originally coining Muhammad’s now iconic phrase “Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee.” Ali trained at Dundee’s famous Fifth Street Gym in Miami, Fla., where he mingled with Malcolm X and the Beatles, to name a few.
Malcolm X and Muhammad’s lives only overlapped for a few years, but during that time they would form a brotherhood documented around pop culture, including Blood Brothers by Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith. Ali’s friendship with Malcolm would lead him to the Nation of Islam and guide the beginning of his spiritual journey.
The National of Islam provided allies to a young Muhammad Ali, including the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, who gave him the name Muhammad Ali after he announced he would no longer go by Cassius Clay. Elijah Muhammad’s sons Wallace and Herbert would also become close to the Champ, and Herbert would manage Ali intermittently throughout his professional career.
Influenced by his father, Cassius Clay, Sr., who was a painter, Muhammad Ali was always drawn towards the arts. Bonds he made with artists would become an important part of how the story of Ali is told, including those with photographer Howard Bingham, and painter LeRoy Neiman, both of whom he met in 1962.
Bingham would become Ali’s personal photographer, traveling the world with the Champ and enjoying unfettered access.
Neiman would attend many Ali fights, painting them by round. Ali and Neiman would send each other art, and many of Muhammad Ali’s original artworks are dedicated to Neiman. The LeRoy Neiman and Howard Bingham Galleries remain an important part of the Muhammad Ali Center to this day.
Ali enjoyed time with media from around the world, but the bond he built with ABC Sports legend Howard Cosell was unlike any other. Cosell and Ali’s unlikely friendship was built on mutual respect and a shared sense of humor and justice. Dave Kindred wrote about their friendship in his biography of the two, “Sound of Fury.”