Billy Crystal Muhammad Ali Eulogy

Last weekend brought the sad news that boxing icon Muhammad Ali had passed away at 74 years old. Yesterday the memorial service, which was open to the public, was held in Louisville, Kentucky and lasted hours. Speakers such as President Bill Clinton and sports reporter Bryant Gumbel spoke at the event along with a statement from President Barack Obama read by White House adviser Valeria Jarrett.

However, if you’re only going to watch one eulogy from the memorial, it should be the tribute from comedian Billy Crystal. For those who don’t know, the City Slickers star and sports fan got his big television break while appearing at an event in 1974 honoring Muhammad Ali. During his speech, Crystal did an impression of Ali being interviewed by ABC sportscaster Howard Cosell, and after that, the comedian and boxer became friends who were close for the rest of their lives.

Watch the Billy Crystal Muhammad Ali eulogy below.

In traditional Crystal fashion, the bearded comedian cut through the sadness and tension at the memorial when he took the stage three hours into the service by saying, “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. We’re at the halfway point. I was clean shaven when this started.” But then Crystal unleashed a 14-minute tribute to Muhammad Ali, saying:

“Last week when we heard the news, time stopped. There was no war, no terrorists, no global catastrophes. The world stopped and took a deep breath and sighed.”

Indeed, hearing that Muhammad Ali passed away was just another crushing blow in a year that has taken away other beloved entertainers as Prince, David Bowie and Alan Rickman. Even those who wouldn’t consider themselves boxing fans knew who Muhammad Ali was, and those who were alive during his amazing career experienced something truly special. Crystal said:

“You had to live in his time. … Every one of his fights was an aura of a Super Bowl. He’d predict the round he would knock someone out in, and then he would do it!”

Crystal even poked fun at the boxer’s larger than life personality that made him so fun to watch, “He was funny he was beautiful. He was the most perfect athlete you ever saw – and those were his own words.” That’s the perfect way to describe the man self-described as the greatest of all time.

Beyond Ali’s boxing career, the man became a strong voice during the Vietnam War. He spoke for those who didn’t have a spotlight shining on them and took a fierce stand against a war that much of the country didn’t believe in fighting at the time:

“But he was so much more than a fighter, as time went on. With Bobby Kennedy gone, Martin Luther King gone, Malcolm X gone, who was there to relate to, when Vietnam exploded in our face? There were millions of young men my age, eligible for the draft for a war we didn’t’ believe in, all of us huddled on the conveyor belt that was rapidly feeding the War Machine. But it was Ali who stood up for us by standing up or himself.”

In addition, Billy Crystal shared this video of his tribute to the athlete from 1979 in honor of Ali’s retirement at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, CA. We should all be so lucky to have a friend like Billy Crystal in our lives:

Don’t forget, you can also watch Michael Mann’s biopic Ali in select theaters this weekend as well.

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