Surviving Beatles band mates Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are among the many celebrities paying tribute to former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, who died late Friday at the age of 74. In February 1964, McCartney, Starr, John Lennon and George Harrison met Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, at a gym in Miami Beach, Florida, during The Beatles’ first visit to the U.S.
Sir Paul says in a statement, “I loved that man. He was great from the first day we met him in Miami, and on the numerous occasions when I ran into him over the years. Besides being the greatest boxer, he was a beautiful, gentle man with a great sense of humor who would often pull a pack of cards out of his pocket, no matter how posh the occasion, and do a card trick for you. The world has lost a truly great man.”
Starr, meanwhile, posted a message on his Facebook page that reads, “God Bless Muhammad Ali — Peace and love to his family.” He also attached a photo of the boxing great lifting him up during The Beatles’ meeting with him.
The Beatles were brought to meet Ali for a promotional photo opportunity while he was training to fight Sonny Liston, whom he beat to win the heavyweight championship. The band members and the boxer, who according to Rolling Stone were not familiar with each other, were snapped clowning around, with Ali and the Fab Four mugging for cameras, and mockingly sparring with the soon-to-be champ.
Speaking with Rolling Stone about Ali lifting him up during photo shoot, Starr recalls, “It wasn’t like, ‘OK, pick him up now!’ He just suddenly did…What was I gonna say?”
Ringo adds, “He was powerful. He was just physically and spiritually powerful. He was just great. He’s a huge loss.”
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