In arguably his most iconic role of his career, Will Smith took on the challenge of playing Muhammad Ali in Michael Mann’s 2001 film Ali. Muhammad Ali is a challenge both mentally and physically, being widely considered the greatest boxer of all time, as well as one of the most controversial athletes in the history of our country. The role Ali played in the societal and political revolution happening across the United States in the 1960s and 70s would have a major impact on his boxing career, being stripped of his Heavyweight title and banned from boxing for refusing to fight in the controversial war in Vietnam after being drafted into the armed forces. He became a major figure of the revolution, speaking out against the Vietnam War, as well as the racism and violence prevalent throughout the country.
Ali would join his mentor and spiritual advisor, Malcolm X, in the Nation of Islam, adding more controversy to his up-and-down personal life. When he was in the ring, however, there was no controversy; Muhammad Ali is the best fighter the sport has ever seen, earning him the nickname “The Greatest.”
When Ali passed away on June 3rd at the age of 74, after losing his long-fought battle with Parkinson’s Disease, America, as well as the rest of the world, lost an unparalleled athlete, a cultural icon, a political activist, and a great man. Thursday, 14,000 people attended a Muslim prayer service, known as Jenazah, and millions more watched the service via live stream, beginning a two-day remembrance of the legendary boxer’s life and career. On Friday, he will be laid to rest in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, as he planned himself in anticipation of his death. Tickets for the Friday service were gone within an hour of being made available. Although the funeral service will be public at the Yum! Center in Louisville, the actual burial will be private, for family only. Will Smith will act as one of the pallbearers, along with former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis. Former President Bill Clinton, comedian Billy Crystal, and sports journalist Bryant Gumbel will give eulogies at the Friday service, which will be available to stream live online at 2 PM.
Will Smith befriended Ali after accepting the role in order to prepare for the challenge and gain an understanding of the extremely controversial and public figure he was taking on. Smith, a very talented actor in his own right, transformed himself into Muhammad Ali, earning him his first Oscar nomination of his prolific career. After Ali’s death, Smith was clearly devastated, stating in a Facebook post that “You Shook Up The World! My Mentor & My Friend. You Changed my Life. Rest in Peace.”
This weekend, thanks to Sony Pictures, the Michael Mann-directed biopic will return to a few hundred theaters across the country in celebration of the champ. Although the film was subpar in terms of box office results upon its initial release in 2001, Sony is re-releasing the film in response to an incredible amount of requests received after the news of Ali’s death. Also starring Jon Voight, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Jamie Foxx, check your local listings for nearby showtimes and honor The Greatest sports icon of all time.