The Michael J. Fox Foundation mourns the passing of athlete and humanitarian Muhammad Ali. He died on June 3, 2016, at age 74.
After completing her BA degree at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee in 1978, Lonnie Ali began her business career in sales with Kraft Foods, Inc. She continued her business studies at UCLA and received an MBA degree in 1986 with an emphasis in Marketing.
Upon marrying Muhammad in November of 1986, she began to assume responsibility for the coordination and eventual management of his business affairs. In September of 1992, she formally incorporated GOAT, Inc. to centralize and license her husband's intellectual properties for commercial purposes. She served as Vice President of GOAT from 1992 until the sale of the company in April 2006. During her tenure as Vice President, Lonnie managed the daily operations of the company while accompanying her husband on domestic and international business trips. In addition, she often partnered with her husband on humanitarian missions around the globe. After the sale of GOAT, Lonnie was asked to serve on the management board of the newly formed company. (Muhammad Ali Enterprises).
In November of 2005, she and her husband opened the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky. The Center's mission is to preserve the Ali legacy for future generations which includes promoting tolerance and understanding among different people, communities and nations. She currently serves as Vice-Chair on the Board of Directors at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky.
Today Lonnie remains actively involved in various charitable and educational causes including being an advocate for children's rights and Parkinson's disease research. She recently partnered with a major pharmaceutical company to launch a national campaign in support of Parkinson's caregivers. She is a frequent guest and speaker at Parkinson's disease support groups and Parkinson's research gatherings.
Lonnie is a native of Louisville, Kentucky and currently divides her time between Berrien Springs, Michigan and Paradise Valley, Arizona.
Muhammad Ali's iconic presence and indomitable spirit inspired millions (including countless members of the Parkinson’s community) throughout his extraordinary career as an athlete and humanitarian. Once he burst onto the scene as a gold-medal winner at the 1960 Rome Olympics, Muhammad Ali remained a magical figure all his life.
Dubbed "Athlete of the Century" by USA Today and GQ magazine, Muhammad received accolades for his contribution to sports. He was named Sports Illustrated's "Sportsman of the Century," the BBC's "Sports Personality of the Century," the World Sports Award's "World Sportsman of the Century," and the State of Kentucky's "Kentuckian of the Century." In November 2005, he received the United States of America's highest civil award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
As a boxer, Muhammad brought unprecedented speed and grace to his sport, while his charm and wit changed forever what the public expected a champion to be. His accomplishments in the ring are the stuff of legend - two fights with Sonny Liston, where he proclaimed himself "The Greatest" and proved he was; three epic wars with Joe Frazier; the stunning victory over George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle; and dethroning Leon Spinks to become heavyweight champion for an unprecedented third time. But there was always far more to Muhammad than what took place in a boxing ring.
Muhammad's life and career played out as much on the front pages of newspapers as on the inside sports pages. His early embrace of Islam and his insistence on being called Muhammad Ali instead of his "slave name," Cassius Clay, heralded a new era in black pride. His refusal to be inducted into the United States Army anticipated the growing antiwar movement of the 1960s as he became an influential figure in the civil rights movement, inspiring millions of Americans toward political and with his outspoken but ultimately widely-respected statements and actions. His willingness to stage his much-promoted and publicized fights in such far-flung locales as Kinshasa, Manila and Kuala Lumpur signaled a shift from superpower dominance toward a growing awareness of the developing world.
Daring to go against political policy to help people in need, Muhammad made goodwill missions to Afghanistan and North Korea; delivered sorely-needed medical supplies to an embargoed Cuba; traveled to Iraq and secured the release of 15 United States hostages during the first Gulf War; and journeyed to South Africa to meet Nelson Mandela upon his release from prison.
Championing the causes of the developing world became a major focus of Muhammad's life. He was instrumental in providing over 232 million meals to the world's hungry. Traveling across continents, he hand-delivered food and medical supplies to children in Cote D'Ivoire, Indonesia, Mexico, and Morocco among other countries.
In addition to his international efforts, Muhammad was equally devoted to helping charities at home. He visited countless numbers of soup kitchens and hospitals, and helped such organizations as the Make-A-Wish-Foundation and the Special Olympics. He annually participated in "Fight Night," which generates funds for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Research Center at Barrow Neurological Institute, in Phoenix, Arizona. At the State Capitol in Michigan, he advocated new laws for protecting children. He was also the namesake of the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, a law that regulates professional boxing to protect boxers from unscrupulous promoters and poor health and bout conditions. Muhammad testified before the United States Congress several times regarding Parkinson's disease research funding and professional boxing reform.
For his humanitarian efforts, Muhammad was the recipient of countless awards. In addition to being honored by Amnesty International with their Lifetime Achievement Award, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan bestowed upon him the citation of United Nations Messenger of Peace. Muhammad received honorary degrees from numerous colleges and universities including Princeton University, Columbia University and Mt. Ida College. He was also named a "Living Legend" by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
In Germany, Muhammad was honored with the 2005 Otto Hahn Peace Medal for his involvement in the U.S. civil rights movement and the United Nations. He was also the International Ambassador of Jubilee 2000, a global organization dedicated to relieving debt in developing nations. Other honors include an Essence Award, an XNBA Human Spirit Award and recognition from the National Urban League; 100 Black Men; Givat Haviva; the Oleander Foundation; The National Conference of Christians and Jews; Time magazine; and former President Jimmy Carter, who cited Muhammad as "Mr. International Friendship."
Ever the entertainer, Muhammad appeared in several motion pictures, including the big-screen adaptation of his first autobiography, The Greatest, playing himself. His life has been the subject of numerous films, including the Academy Award-winning documentary When We Were Kings and Michael Mann's biopic, ALI, starring Will Smith. Muhammad also starred in Freedom Road, and made guest appearances on numerous popular television series ranging from Diff'rent Strokes toTouched by an Angel. He also starred on Broadway in the musical, Big Time Buck White, and recorded a popular album, I Am the Greatest!
Muhammad published a memoir in 2004 entitled, The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life's Journey, in which he discusses the meaning of religion, forgiveness, and some of the defining moments in his life and career. He was also the co-author of Healing: A Journal of Tolerance and Understanding and The Greatest: My Own Story.
In 2005, Muhammad opened the Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. In addition to displaying a selection of his memorabilia, the Center's interactive exhibits focus on themes of peace, social responsibility, respect and personal growth. In 2006, he partnered with CKX, Inc. to form Muhammad Ali Enterprises LLC, for the licensing of his name, image and likeness and to continue promoting his cultural and philosophical legacy throughout the world.
Muhammad is survived by nine children: Maryum, Rasheda, Jamillah, Hana, Laila, Khaliah, Miya, Muhammad Junior and Asaad, and his wife, the former Lonnie Williams of Louisville, whom he has known since her family moved across the street from the Clay family when she was 6 years old.
Whether promoting tolerance and understanding, feeding the hungry, studying his religion, or reaching out to children in need, Muhammad Ali was devoted to making the world a better place for all people. No athlete ever contributed more to the life of his country, or the world, than Muhammad Ali.
The Founders’ Council was created in 2008 to recognize individuals who have made significant and transformative contributions to our Foundation’s efforts as part of our Board of Directors or as special advisors to the Foundation. Council members continue their involvement with MJFF on an as-needed basis, strategically advising on questions relevant to their areas of interest or expertise.