Saturday, June 4, 2016
Requiem for a heavyweight
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.