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February 27, 2024 25 mins

It's 13 years later.  In his mid-30s and on the cusp of middle age,
Davis is managing a video store in Ali's hometown of Louisville.  On
Easter weekend, Muhammad Ali and Davis meet again.  And Ali saves
Davis' life a second time.  Then, Ali's daughter Rasheda shares
stories about her dad's playful nature and irrepressible antics during
his later years.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
It's thirteen years later, nineteen eighty eight. I can't pretend
to be Muhammad Ali Junior anymore. I'm no longer full
of beans. Those beans have long ago been knocked out
of me. I'm managing a video store in Louisville, Ali's hometown,
five hundred long miles away from my home, family and friends.

(00:24):
I work sixty seventy hour week, sometimes even more in
this little bitty brown box, which in effect is my
own personal coffin with a cash register and hundreds upon
hundreds of third rate Hollywood dreams. But I understand that

(00:45):
there's something larger inside me, something timeless. What the hell
is it? It's a week before Easter. Sundays are the
only day I get away from my little brown coffin.
Every Sunday, if there are no emergencies at the store,
I walk down to the river with Lynn, Johanna and Isaac.

(01:08):
The kids in Lynn playing on the shore, finding fresh water, clams,
picking up pieces of driftwood, throwing and chasing a blue ball, laughing.
But I can't engage. I'm standing there with them, but
I can't see them, I can't hear them, certainly, can't

(01:29):
touch them. Where I really am it squeezed into my
little brown store, my tight brown coffin. I may be
wearing jeans and a T shirt right here, right now,
but I'm not really in those clothes. I'm strapped up
in my button up white shirt, my thin, little tight
ass necktie, my stiff, scratchy, cheap ass brown trousers, tight

(01:53):
lace up brown shoes, the very things I wear every
single day, days a week, seventy or more hours in
the little brown, brown, brown store.

Speaker 2 (02:10):
My dad was. He was Peter Pan. He never really
grew up.

Speaker 3 (02:16):
He was very mature when it came down to social issues.
He was very in tune. He felt a responsibility to
be able to share his connection to millions of people
who were in need.

Speaker 1 (02:29):
That's for Shida Ali Walsh.

Speaker 3 (02:32):
But he was a little boy at heart. He still
was very playful and he didn't lose that even in
his final years, and he's still grandiose. He's the same
person as he was before Parkinson's just people don't really
see that side of him, and I'm glad you were
able to capture that in your story. My dad loved people.
My dad loved being Muhammed Ali. He loved the way

(02:54):
he made people feel.

Speaker 1 (03:00):
I'm Davis Miller, author of the cult classic The Dow
of Muhammad Ali. But before I became a professional writer,
I was a frustrated, uptight manager of a video store.
That's right, Tarantino, I did it long before you did.
And did I mention the store was brown? Anyway? It

(03:23):
was nothing more than a strange twist of fate that
set me on an irreversible path. The grief stricken inner
child in me had to learn how to hang loose,
and with that our journey continues Episode two, The Cosmic Child.

(03:48):
It's nineteen eighty eight, and I'm not thinking about Ali anymore.
He'd been my childhood hero. What I'm thinking about instead
is I'm a manager of a video store in Louisville Content.
I've got two young kids, I'm married, have a mortgage,
car payment, and I'm called to the home office in Cincinnati.

(04:09):
I think I'm getting a promotion. My wife, Lynna, and
I are struggling to get by. We've taken a way
too many bills. I'm looking forward to a big raise here. Instead,
the president of the company tells me that they're closing
all the Kentucky stores. I won't have a job anymore,
and they can't afford to send me back to North Carolina,
so we're stuck. I'm going to get thirty days of severance.

(04:31):
Then I don't know where money's going to come from.
We have maybe a couple thousand dollars in savings and
that's all. So I'm hugely depressed. Driving back into Louisville,
I coincidentally drive past the house that I know to
be Ali's mom's house. There's this block long white Winnebago
parked in front with license plates that read the Greatest.

(04:57):
Having more than a small clue who that is, I
got to stop and thank this guy for what he's
meant to my life and what he's meant to millions
of other people. It's March thirty first, nineteen eighty eight,
Good Friday, two days away from Resurrection Day Easter Sunday,
and Mohammed Ali saves my life for the second time.

(05:22):
I work up my courage and I park behind the winnebago.
I go up to the door, getting ready to knock
on it. I have my fist raised. Ali opens the
door before I knock. He's so huge, I've forgotten how
huge he is. He has to lean under the frame
of the doorway to see me. He's standing there, looking

(05:45):
like a big, lighted, beautiful house high up on a
hill somewhere. He motions me in with two fingers of
his right hand, and I immediately recognize he's deeply Parkinsonian.
He's not speaking much anymore. Ali moves mechanically to the
rear of his Winnebago. It's my great grandfather's walk. You

(06:05):
like magic, man. I'm not much of a believer these days.
I say, wash my feet, he says, standing maybe eight
feet away, his back to me, in his arms perpendicular
to his sides. Then he seems to levitate maybe three
inches off of the floor. He turns to me and
in his thick, slow voice, says, oh, man, I'm bad.

(06:30):
I laugh and ask him to do it again. Man
is a good one. We leave the Winnebago. Suddenly there's
a chirping insects in my ear. I jump back, swathed
the air turned around. It had been Ali's hand. How'd
you do that? I want to know. He raises both
fists and motions me out into the yard. I put

(06:53):
up my hands and he tosses a slow jab at me.
I block and encounter with my owns. Surely he doesn't
remember my time sparring with him in nineteen seventy five.
He doesn't know who they hell I am. He's throwing
shots at me. I'm throwing shots at him a half
inch away from each other. Kids riding past on bicycles

(07:13):
stop dead in the road. There's people with their car
windows rolled down yelling hey, cham Py Champ. And he's
one fourth as fast as he was in nineteen seventy five,
but his eyes are shining like black electric marbles and
he's wide awake. After about five minutes of moving around,
he stops and leans over close to my ear and says,

(07:37):
come on in the house. His mom's in there, Missus
Odessa Clay, Mama Bird, and his brother rockmand Ah. He
asked me to join him on the couch and invites
me to stay for dinner. Good gosh, I need to
call home and let my wife know. I say, I
called in and tell her where I am and what

(07:59):
I'm doing. I'm sure she's excited for me, but we
have a lot of history. Just pick up a gallon
of milk. On the way home, she says. Rockman comes
from the kitchen bringing two big bowls at chili, sweating coal,
glasses of root beer, and huge thick pieces of white
bread while Ali and I watch Oprah on TV. After

(08:25):
I eat, I feel like I need to use the bathroom,
so I get up and excuse myself. In Muhammed Ali's
Mother's house, my childhood idol. I'm in the bathroom. I
do whatever it is I do in there, and I
get ready to leave. Suddenly the door won't open. I'm
yanking on it, and I yank on it harder and harder.
It won't budge. I can feel my face flushing red.

(08:47):
I'm getting more embarrassed by the moment. And then there's
this laughter from the other room. I hear Missus Clay laughing.
I hear Rockmund laughing. I hear Ali's snickering. And suddenly
the door opens. Was holding the knob keeping me in there.
He drags me out into the main room, tosses me
gently down onto the floor, gets on top of me,

(09:09):
and starts tickling me. I'm laughing. I'm laughing like a kid.
I'm laughing uncontrollably. And I recognize that despite his Parkinson's,
Ali hasn't lost his highest gift, the ability to move
people past thoughts and words to a world of feeling

(09:29):
and play. I'm not thinking about my problems. His family,
they're not thinking about their problems, and Ali, as best
as I can tell, isn't thinking about his Parkinson's. We're
all children again playing Mohammed Ali was a cosmic child.

(09:59):
You couldn't hang out with this guy for ten minutes
without seeing the kid come out. He had to mess
with you, he had to mess with the world. I
was not naturally a playful person. My time spent with
Mohammed made me far more playful than i'd otherwise be.
What do you got to say about this? Craig Mortally?

Speaker 4 (10:19):
We were in a hotel somewhere and I said, Mohammed,
have you gained weight? You look a little bigger. And
he looked at me and oh, did you call me
N word? And I said, yes, yes I did. And
he started laughing. He slap his thigh and oh, he
throw his head back and almost like a silent laugh.

(10:40):
But he was cracked up because I knew where he
was going with it. And I beat him to the punch.
A lot of times. We were together for the first
time in a long time. Maybe we'd take a picture together,
and I invariably would make a fist and put it
to his face, and he would bite his lower lip
and take that angry pose with me, or put his
fist up to me and we were just playing.

Speaker 1 (10:59):
He did all of these things with gestures and with
his fingers and his face. He would rub both his
index finger and his thumb together and make this cricket sound.
Craig's doing it. My hands won't work today.

Speaker 4 (11:12):
Here it is.

Speaker 1 (11:16):
He would sneak up behind people and do that in
their ears when they didn't see him. He'd do it
with complete strangers in a crowd, or he'd do it
with friends over and over again, and people would jump
and swat.

Speaker 4 (11:30):
It's a little cricket noise. So that was my initiation
within the first forty five minutes of meeting my hero.
He's messing with me.

Speaker 1 (11:39):
So many of the things he did were a way
of saying, wake up, Wake up. He wanted to wake
you up with the things he did. At least that's
the effect it had on me. And there's something downright
mystical about that. Well.

Speaker 4 (11:55):
The other nonverbal thing he liked to do, there was
two of them, and involve his fingers and one he
would sneak up behind you and put the rabbit ears
behind you, or like or the devil horns. Yeah, he'd
do that behind your when you were taking a picture.
The other thing was if he thought you were being goofy,
you know, he used to say, are you crazy? Man?

Speaker 2 (12:15):
You crazy?

Speaker 4 (12:15):
But if he just felt like being nonverbal, he would
point his finger and pointed to his ears and make
the circle motion like you're a nuts man. He did
that a lot as a nonverbal sort of communication or cue.

Speaker 1 (12:28):
Yeah it. Particularly as the years went on he did
that one more and more too.

Speaker 2 (12:32):
I love your show a Mario style, but if.

Speaker 4 (12:35):
Your pay is so cheap, I won't be back for
a while. Well, I felt honored because he said the
same thing to Dick Cavett, everybody, Johnny Carson, Howard Cosell,
David Frost, whoever.

Speaker 1 (12:49):
No matter how many times he said that stuff, you'd
laugh and you weren't forcing a laugh.

Speaker 4 (12:55):
Many times he used humor to diffuse a serious situation. Absolutely,
Sometimes somebody was taken by Muhammad's health, felt sad, or
if somebody was uncomfortable, he would break that situation with humor.
What did Lincoln say after a four day drunk.

Speaker 1 (13:15):
He'd always say who It was just terrible jokes like that,
but when he did it, it was funny.

Speaker 4 (13:22):
I was at the Super Bowl one time. I bring
my friend to the room to meet Mohammed, and Mohammad
was watching one of those crazy afternoon talk shows.

Speaker 1 (13:31):
You are not.

Speaker 4 (13:34):
Mohammed could see that my friend was kind of choked
up and sat and he reached out and he shook
his hand and he pulled him in close, and he
whispered something in his ear vulgar about the female anatomy,
and my friend just cracked up. And then I said, Muhammed,
you're you're crazy man. We walked out and we went

(13:55):
to the elevator. The doors open, and I look over
my shoulder and my friend is now in tears. I
said to him, don't you feel sorry for him? He
made you laugh, didn't he He goes, he did make me laugh,
and I said, well, then don't feel sorry for him,
because he's all there. And my friend got over it
right away, but for a moment, he was thinking back
to the guy he knew in the seventies.

Speaker 1 (14:16):
He's still there.

Speaker 4 (14:17):
He just can't get it out the way he used
to Mohammad detected this guy's bumman al, so he told
him something outrageous to break the tension and made him laugh.
He used humor to diffuse a heavy situation.

Speaker 1 (14:36):
Magic man did Muhammad love magic. He was pretty dark.
Good as prestidigitator too. It was a really cool one
he did with me, and I always saw him do this.
One time he put this handkerchief down and said, there's
a ghost in the house. There's a ghost right here,

(14:56):
and he would make the handkerchief float, would raise up
and in the middle. I don't know how he did
that one. Of course, the one he did with everybody
was the levitation thing. My son Isaac for years thought
that he really had levitated too, and he couldn't be
the only kid who did you know. He loved old
horror films, particularly those from the thirties and forties. Mohammed

(15:17):
also got a kick out of CHRISTOPHERD. Lee, Campy Dracula,
movies from the nineteen sixties and seventies, Black and Whites,
The Mummy, Frankenstein, wolf Man, all of that stuff. I
remember when he was chasing Isaac around the house saying people,

(15:42):
he is just like a big kid and of course,
one of his favorite gags too, is when he get
in a crowd and he sees some kid or some
older guy who was maybe a little shorter than him
but close to heavyweight, who was almost always an African
American guy, and he points to him and say, Joe Frazier,

(16:06):
did he toss punches of that guy? And it just
pulls everybody into his circle.

Speaker 4 (16:13):
It's inescapable that you're in the presence of someone who
does transcend race, religion, culture, nationality. You're meeting someone extraordinary.

Speaker 1 (16:27):
He was never more than a half step away from
a joke.

Speaker 4 (16:31):
He never lost his sense of fun and sense of humor.
And I think for young men, especially athletes today, stop
taking yourself too seriously. Man, have fun, enjoy it. Don't
think you're bigger than the situation itself. Mohammed's situation was
really heavy, and he was as big as they come,
but he always remained a man of the people and

(16:51):
wanted to share goodwill and fun with everybody he encountered.

Speaker 1 (16:55):
No matter how ridiculous his antic was or what ever
came out of his mouth, there was almost always a
profundity to it. There was a wisdom in it, and
I think there's a wisdom in just that simple sense
of play that keeps you from getting old, that keeps
you from getting bored. It allows you to have a

(17:15):
good time with your life. The things that other people
would have not dealt so well with as he did,
the things that you've mentioned, Kraig, that's a major part
of his transcendence. He didn't let the shit get him down.
He just was gonna have fun no matter what. That beautiful, playful,
eternal child.

Speaker 4 (17:48):
Rashida Ali Walsh is the second oldest child, along with
her twin sister Jamila, of Mohammad Ali. She's an author,
a spokesperson, a Parkinson's disease advocate, and she joins us, now.

Speaker 2 (18:01):
Hi, thanks for having me.

Speaker 4 (18:03):
Davis met your dad in Louisville and spend some time
at your grandmother's house. Your dad welcomed him in to
dinner at Mama Bird's house.

Speaker 1 (18:13):
I'm a bird.

Speaker 2 (18:14):
Yeah.

Speaker 4 (18:16):
Uncle Rockband is there with Mohammed and Davis excuses himself
to go to the bathroom, and then your father locks
him in the bathroom and leaves him in there, and
they're laughing outside, and then finally he let him out
and he tackles Davis on the floor begins tickling him.
Talk about that playful nature in your dad that he
reverted back to something a little boy would do.

Speaker 2 (18:37):
We'd be in an elevator.

Speaker 3 (18:40):
And strangers right in front of us, and my dad
was take his finger and kind of go up to
a stranger's ear and kind of make this crackling sound
that sounds like a bug or a.

Speaker 2 (18:52):
Fly cricket, and the person would turn around.

Speaker 3 (18:57):
And thought that that it was a book. Then he
would reveal who the bug was at the end of
our elevator ride. He's always loved joking around, making people laugh.

Speaker 2 (19:11):
He was a little kid. He didn't lose that even
in his final years. He would play.

Speaker 3 (19:17):
Around with the cars on either side of us, and
some people would be like, what a weirdo and then
keep driving.

Speaker 2 (19:25):
But there's some people double take and go.

Speaker 3 (19:28):
By day, you know, cars would almost drive off the
road because they're like, I can't believe Mohammed only just
next to me.

Speaker 2 (19:36):
My dad would just go through the phone book and
just call people. He would say, this is Muhammed only.

Speaker 3 (19:42):
My dad's wife had to change his number once a
month because people would call back, and then it would
just be too many.

Speaker 2 (19:49):
People call him. He did it all the time.

Speaker 3 (19:57):
My kids were little and he had a farm, and
the time that we would spend together was so magnificent
because my kids got a chance to see their grandpa
at a time where even though I saw my dad
at that age, I didn't really remember. By the time
I was five six, my parents divorced, so those young
years I didn't really recollect because my dad wasn't in

(20:18):
the same state as me, we didn't live together, So
I was going to give my kids the memories that
I didn't have. We would watch videos together, movies, Western movies,
we would watch Elvis movies, we would watch him.

Speaker 2 (20:35):
His favorite subject, and it would.

Speaker 3 (20:38):
Just be so much fun connecting with my dad and
my kids getting to know their grandpa. He had on
the property a gym that he used back in the
seventies and my kids go in the boxing ring with
him and just play around, and then we had a
heavy bag he would play with his grandkids and us,

(21:00):
and we just had the most magical time together.

Speaker 2 (21:04):
There was just really a magical time for us.

Speaker 3 (21:08):
It was so big, it was eighty eight acres. He
would go out there and just walk and sometimes we'd
all go out there and walk with him. You could
walk for miles and still be on the property. Nothing
was better than that. If you spent time with him,
you didn't have to speak. I know my dad's eyes

(21:30):
and the way he speaks with his eyes. I just
understood nonverbally what he was saying with his eyes, and
he would laugh and his eyes would light up. That
was the way that we were non verbally able to
communicate with Parkinson's.

Speaker 2 (21:42):
He didn't have to talk.

Speaker 3 (21:43):
He just looked and he used his facial expressions. He
used his hands, he used his eyes.

Speaker 2 (21:49):
He's still grandiose.

Speaker 3 (21:50):
He's the same person as he was before Parkinson's, just
people don't really see that side of him. My dad
loved being Muhammed alive, the way he made people feel.

Speaker 2 (22:02):
One time, we were.

Speaker 3 (22:03):
Just hanging out with my dad at the house and
he's like, let's go out on the town, and I said,
let's go. When celebrities go out places, they have twenty
security people.

Speaker 2 (22:12):
My dad was nothing like that. He wanted people to
be able to connect with him. I've been with him
on many.

Speaker 3 (22:18):
Trips where security was automatically provided and he said, no,
you can stay back. He wanted to connect. He wanted
to make people feel special.

Speaker 2 (22:30):
People from all over the globe would come visit him.

Speaker 3 (22:32):
And he got my boys into magic, and so Nico
bought this Chrissangel Magic kit and he started practicing. Nico
showed Daddy floating card trick my Dad.

Speaker 2 (22:44):
He loved it so much. Nico had to do it
four times. He was like, do it again, do it again.
He was so excited.

Speaker 3 (22:57):
A lot of documentaries on my father, people who do
those documentaries don't include his kids gets a disservice because
my dad had nine children and he loved us so much.
He traveled all over the world. He did everything he could.
He sacrificed a lot of time away from us to
be a huge influence and to help people of the world.

(23:20):
But at the same time he did all of that
for us. My dad was a very loving and caring
human being, but he was also the loving and caring father.

Speaker 1 (23:35):
Next time on the dow Mohammed and I stepped deep
into the mystic and my life is forever transformed. Also,
we sit down with Reverend al Sharpton, who shares his
own personal stories with the child.

Speaker 5 (23:50):
Not a l said to me and even what you
do is not how good you can though, it is
how good you could take it. If you tell you Sharpton,
you get out there fighting his system, it will throw punches.
If you can't take it, don't get out there. And
it was stuff like that.

Speaker 1 (24:06):
That he lived by the dow of Mohammad. Ali is
produced by Imagine Audio for iHeart Podcast and hosted by
Me Davis Miller. My co host is Craig Mortally, Karl Welker,
Mark Bouch, Nathan Kloke, Derek Jennings and Little Oe. Me

(24:26):
Davis Miller are executive producers. Produced by Craig Mortali, sound
design and mixing by Juan Borda, music by Djsparr and
introducing a very good pal of mine Isaac Miller. Additional
music is provided by Opera Louisiana's twenty twenty three production

(24:47):
of Approaching Ali and also Luminescence track Nuage. Visit luminescent
music dot com to check out more from the band.
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