Billy Crystal Eulogy for Muhammad Ali

I think it was the second fight between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali where, at Dever School on the Northwest Side of Chicago, one of my black schoolmates, bussed in from a black neighborhood, asked me who I was favoring in the fight. My answer was Ali. My friend Sam Hamill points out that Ali degraded Frazier by calling him names that would get an ordinary person killed and I don’t have an answer for that. I do believe that Billy Crystal’s eulogy is the finest I have ever seen and articulates something I have long suspected.

It’s at the 3:40 mark when Crystal says that it was the time after the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X and Dr. King, that Ali became the de facto conscience of the United States, refusing to fight in the Vietnam War at great personal cost, during three of his prime fighting years. Never mind that fighting is barbaric, and like U.S. football, will be illegal some day. This was the early 70s and there was a lot wrong about this country and our world, but Ali’s stance on the draft was principled and he was rightly vindicated.

As a Chicago native, I had hoped for many years that Michael Jordan would use his great popularity to fill the void that has existed in this country since Ali started to become affected by Parkinson’s syndrome, but that was not to be. And while Bernie Sanders has done what he could to become a conscience for this country, he was, after all, seeking office, so there is an ulterior motive.

Watch the eulogy and see something of the force we just lost in this world. And while the day for heroes is over, we need about a billion individuals now to step up and take on smaller parts of the great work of our time to create &/or deepen the systems that will replace capitalism, the USAmerican Empire and the biosphere, all of which seem to be crashing at the same time. We need to look especially to women and not expect a Hollywood ending where a hero comes to the rescue. How will you replace your share of Ali in this world?

About Splabman

Paul Nelson is founder of SPLAB (Seattle Poetics LAB) in Seattle, the Cascadia Poetry Festival and the August POetry POstcard Fest (PoPo). He has published a collection of essays, Organic Poetry & a serial poem re-enacting the history of Auburn, WA, A Time Before Slaughter (shortlisted for a 2010 Genius Award by The Stranger) and American Sentences, a book of 17 syllable poems drawn from the first fourteen of his 20 years of daily practice. The tenth anniversary edition of that book includes Pig War: & Other Songs of Cascadia. He’s interviewed Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Wanda Coleman, Anne Waldman, Sam Hamill, Robin Blaser, Nate Mackey, Eileen Myles, George Bowering, Diane di Prima, Brenda Hillman, George Stanley, Joanne Kyger & many Cascadia poets (see: has presented his poetry and poetics in London, Brussels, Bothell, Cumberland, BC, Qinghai and Beijing, China, Lake Forest, Illinois, Ukiah, CA, and other places & writes an American Sentence every day.
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