British boxing great Lennox Lewis and Hollywood star Will Smith will be pallbearers at Muhammad Ali’s funeral, it was announced yesterday evening.
Ali died in Phoenix, Arizona, at the age of 74 on Friday evening local time.
He had been admitted to hospital earlier in the week with a respiratory condition having suffered with Parkinson’s disease for 32 years.
His family said in a statement that he died from complications related to his condition.
The funeral is to be held in his hometown of Louisville at 2pm local time (7pm Irish time) on Friday.
Lewis, who reigned as undisputed world heavyweight champion after beating Evander Holyfield in 1999, has been named as a pallbearer along with Smith, who was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Ali in the 2001 film of the same name.
The other pallbearers will be Jerry Ellis – the brother of Jimmy Ellis, Ali’s former sparring partner and fellow world heavyweight champion – and Ali’s cousins John Grady and Jan Wadell, nephew Ibn Ali, former brother-in-law Komawi Ali and family friend John Ramsey.
The memorial service, at the KFC YUM! Centre in the Kentucky city, will be open to the public and streamed live on the internet for those unable to attend.
It will be preceded by a Jenazah – an Islamic funeral prayer programme – also for the public at midday on Thursday at the Freedom Hall, where Ali made his professional debut with victory over Tunney Hunsaker in 1960 and fought for the last time in Louisville against Willi Besmanoff a year later.
Among the speakers at “The Greatest’s” funeral will be Malcolm X’s daughter Attalah Shabazz, wife Lonnie Ali, eldest daughter Maryum, American actor Billy Crystal, former US president Bill Clinton and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey.
“Everything that we’re doing here was blessed by Muhammad Ali, and was requested,” said family spokesman Bob Gunnell, who broke the news of the former world heavyweight champion’s death.
“He wanted the memorial service to reflect his life, and how he lived. He wanted everyone to be able to attend. He was the people’s champ, and he wanted the memorial service to reflect that.
“We want this to be inclusive of everyone. That’s why we set Freedom Hall – not just with its historical significance but with the size of Freedom Hall, so that everyone fits in.
“That Muslims and people of all faiths could attend, and perhaps learn more and be like Muhammad Ali, and open their hearts to everybody.
“This is not a political statement, this is not about politics, this is about how Muhammad Ali lived his life.”