Saturday, June 4, 2016

Requiem for a heavyweight

Time always wins, but sometimes it creeps up on you so slowly, you hardly notice.

The news of boxing legend Muhammad Ali's death at age 74 reminds me that the clock only runs one way. Ali seems like a remnant of a very distant past, but it's the same past as mine. Once upon a time he was a universally known figure in sports, politics, the media and just about everywhere else. But for the last couple decades he was barely visible, trapped in a grim spiral of Parkinson's disease and remorseless disability.

"Nil nisi and all that," as a P.D. James character once said, but more than a few have questioned Ali's sometimes mean-spirited trash talk about his opponents. Sure, it was partly an act to gin up the box office, but even the obsequious New York Times notes some of the nastier edges. So it's with pleasure that I link to Ali's one brush with our little genre, his September 19, 1965 turn on What's My Line.

Muhammad Ali could not have been more gracious, soft-spoken and appealing in this appearance. The panel quickly guessed him, despite the funny little girl voice he used. In a sad bit of irony, one of the guest panelists was fellow sports figure Joe Garagiola, who himself died not long ago.

The world heavyweight championship has left American shores for many years now. This makes Ali seem like even more of a relic from a vanished past. But the WML ep lives on, showing the champ at his best. R.I.P.

1 comment:

  1. When former WML guests pass away, there's always an enormous spike in viewership of any episode featuring them. Since starting the channel three years ago, I've seen it happen with Lauren Bacall, James Garner, Yogi Berra, Polly Bergen, a few others. I'm sure the same will be true of the Ali episode.

    At first this all felt a bit morbid to me, seeing these consistent spikes in viewership following a death. But the way I've come to see it, these shows give the public a way to remember these greats at their peak, rather than just wallowing in the loss. That's the opposite of morbid.

    And anyhow, the biggest single day spike in viewership I've ever seen was for the show featuring Hedy Lamarr-- and she'd passed away 15 years earlier. And that spike was on November 9th-- her birthday! Clearly someone prominent somewhere out there in internetland must have linked to it.

    Great post, Casey. :)