LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) —Muhammad Ali’s fists made him famous but his plight as a social activist was perhaps his biggest fight.
At the Muhammad Ali Center, visitors see the three-time world heavyweight champion railing against war, segregation and poverty. They also see the softer side of a man embracing spiritual growth.
On Saturday, the center was in the limelight when Ali was surrounded by friends for a private party celebrating his 70th birthday. Having spent more than a decade raising money to create and operate the six-story center in downtown Louisville, Ali and his wife, Lonnie, are using the champ’s latest personal milestone to benefit the 6-year-old complex.
The party, in a banquet room offering a sweeping view of the Ohio River, doubled as a $1,000-per-person fundraiser for Ali’s beloved center, where the boxer’s words are inscribed throughout the exhibits. The center traces Ali’s remarkable life and the turbulent times that helped shape one of the world’s most recognizable figures.
Ali, who is battling Parkinson’s disease, tur-ned 70 on Tuesday.
“The Ali Center is a vessel for sharing Muhammad’s legacy and championing his social significance,” Lonnie Ali said Jan. 12 in a statement to The Associated Press. “The center empowers people — especially youth — to create transformational change in the world.”
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on Jan. 17, 1942, Ali grew up in a predominantly black West End neighborhood of Louisville.
He took up boxing at age 12, later becoming a top amateur boxer and Olympic gold medalist.
Raised in a Baptist family, he announced his conversion to Islam soon after defeating Sonny Liston in 1964 to win the heavyweight crown for the first time. He moved to Miami in the early 1960s but kept his close ties to Louisville, where he has a home today. The Alis also have homes in Michigan and Arizona.