With 2017 well underway, the default setting of global mourning has been abandoned and the mass hysteria has been replaced with the power of hindsight, giving way to appreciation for the great legends we lost last year.
This has never been more true than today, the day on which Muhammad Ali was born 75 years ago in Louisville, Kentucky.
In honour of his birthday – and his exemplary life devoted to boxing and activism – footage of Muhammad Ali saving a suicidal man’s life in 1981 has begun circulating again.
— Muhammad Ali (@MuhammadAli) January 17, 2017
Born Cassius Clay, the young man grew up with an overwhelming sense of justice. Indeed, Clay may never have grown into the man, the myth and the boxing legend, Muhammad Ali if it hadn’t been for the theft of his bike when he was just 12-years-old.
The story goes that Cassius’ brand new bike was stolen by an older boy from the Columbia Auditorium. Cassius went to report the theft to a policeman who happened to be on site, but lost his temper during the conversation and claimed he was gonna ‘whoop’ the thief.
Miraculously, the police officer was Joe Martin – a boxing enthusiast who owned his own gym. Inspired by Clay’s wrath of anger he decided to start training him as a boxer. Six weeks later and Cassius won his first bout.
Not only was Muhammad Ali the greatest boxer in history, during the golden era of the sport, he also carried with him a great sense of right and wrong which he later channelled into his activism and intellectual endeavours.
His kind spirit was well documented by those who encountered him, and one particular incident displays this better than any other.
According to the LA Times, in early January 1981, Ali was credited with saving a suicidal man’s life when he raced to talk the troubled youngster down from the ninth floor of a Miracle Mile office building.
A spokesperson for the LAPD documented the whole incident, telling the LA Times:
Ali did it all. He went up there and he talked to the guy until he came down. A police psychologist and a chaplain had tried – but Ali got it done.
The man was badly disturbed. Part of the time he was yelling that he was ‘crazy’ and ‘no good,’ part of the time, he seemed to think he was in Vietnam–with the Viet Cong coming at him…
Every time someone got close the guy would stand up on the outer ledge beside the fire escape, or dangle his feet over. We were afraid if we tried to use a net or anything, he would go…
When the crowd gathered below began to chant at the man, the street was closed. Just as the situation appeared to present no solution, Muhammad Ali arrived in a two tone brown Rolls Royce.
Sgt. Bruce Hagerty, who commanded officers in the vicinity, told the LA Times that Ali had been in the area and one of his representatives had contacted the LAPD to see if the Champ could be any help. Upon arrival, Ali ran into the building and up to the nearest window on the ninth floor. He began to talk to the man.
According to reports, Ali told the troubled 22-year-old unidentified man:
You’re my brother… I love you and I couldn’t lie to you. You got to listen. I want you to come home with me, meet some friends of mine…
Twenty tense minutes later, after initial apprehension and much effort on Ali’s part to befriend this troubled stranger, the man opened the fire escape door and Ali walked out onto the fire escape with him, guiding him to safety.
Ali later told the Reading Eagle:
I told him he wasn’t a nobody. He saw me weeping and he couldn’t believe I was really doing that, that I cared that much about him…
We’re buying (Joe) some clothes; he’s got no clothes. And I’m helping him find a job through a company. I promised when I was talking to him that I would meet his family. So I am going to meet them.
With kindness and respect, Ali made this man understand that his life was worth living. That is the mark of a true champion.
If any of the issues in this article have affected you, you can seek confidential support in America by calling the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255.
In the UK, call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90, visit a local Samaritans branch or see www.samaritans.org.