Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr.

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Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr.
Born (1912-11-11)November 11, 1912
Jefferson County, Kentucky, U.S.
Died February 8, 1990(1990-02-08) (aged 77)
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
Occupation Painter, musician
Odessa Grady
(m. 1933)
Children Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay Jr.)
Rahman Ali (Rudy Clay)

Cassius Marcellus Clay (November 11, 1912 – February 8, 1990) was an American painter and musician. He was the father of three-time World Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali and Rahman Ali, and the grandfather of Laila Ali. He married Odessa Lee O'Grady in the 1930s and worked as a painter and a musician. He was described as "a handsome, mercurial, noisy, combative failed dreamer"[1] and a "hard-drinking, skirt-chasing dandy of a daddy".[2] His son Muhammad Ali described him as "the fanciest dancer in Louisville".[3]


Clay was born in Jefferson County, Kentucky, the son of Herman H. Clay (March 1876 – February 1, 1954) and Edith E. Greathouse (December 1890 – December 30, 1971[4]). He had a sister and four brothers, including Nathaniel Clay.[5][6] Clay's paternal grandparents were John Clay and Sallie Anne Clay. His sister Eva said that Sallie was a native of Madagascar.[7] He was named after the 19th-century Republican politician and staunch abolitionist, Cassius Marcellus Clay, also from the state of Kentucky.[8]

Clay painted billboards and signs.[8] He also played the piano, took piano lessons and wrote music. Around 1933, he married Odessa Lee O'Grady.[9] He was a heavy drinker, which led to legal entanglements for reckless driving, disorderly conduct, and assault and battery.[10] When asked in 1970 why he had not become a Muslim as his son had done, he said: "my religion is my talent, that which supports me."[11]

Clay died at the age of 77 on February 8, 1990, after suffering a heart attack while leaving a department store in Jefferson County, Kentucky.[6]


Clay was portrayed by Arthur Adams in the 1977 film, The Greatest and by Giancarlo Esposito in the 2001 Oscar-nominated film Ali.[12]


  1. ^ Lipsyte, Robert (March 7, 1971). "I Don't Have to Be What You Want Me to Be". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-09-04. 
  2. ^ "Ali". The Guardian. London. November 2, 2003. Retrieved 2009-09-04. 
  3. ^ Lee Eisenberg. Fifty who made the difference. ISBN 0-394-53912-5. 
  4. ^ "Ancestry of Muhammad Ali". 
  5. ^ "Barber Can Relax Hair". Philadelphia Inquirer. October 15, 1997. Retrieved 2009-09-04. 
  6. ^ a b "Cassius Marcellus Clay., Former Champion's Father, 77". Associated Press in The New York Times. February 10, 1990. Retrieved 2009-09-04. 
  7. ^ Egerton (1991), p. 134
  8. ^ a b "The Dream". Time magazine. March 22, 1963. Retrieved 2009-09-04. But the Clays have been there for six generations—ever since their ancestors worked first as slaves, then as farm laborers on the plantation of Cassius Marcellus Clay, who was Lincoln's Minister to Russia. 
  9. ^ Egerton, John (September 28, 1980). "Ali's Kentucky Roots". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-09-04. 
  10. ^ "Growing Up Scared in Louisville". Sports Illustrated. April 18, 1966. Retrieved 2009-09-04. More than once Odessa Clay had her husband brought into court for roughing her up. Cassius Sr. was also arrested for reckless driving, disorderly conduct and assault and battery, always after he had been drinking.... [He] "isn't a criminal or even an evil man. He's just a frustrated little guy who can't drink. He never served any time and he never will." 
  11. ^ "Words of the week". Jet magazine. November 12, 1970. Retrieved 2009-09-04. 
  12. ^ "Ali (2001)". The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2009-09-04. 

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