Muhammad Ali in media and popular culture

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This article covers the boxer Muhammad Ali's appearances in media and popular culture.

Pop art painting of Muhammad Ali by John Stango


  • The Cassius Clay Story, by George Sulivan (1964)
  • Black is Best: The Riddle of MUHAMMAD ALI, by Jack Olsen (1967)
  • Muhammad Ali, who once was Cassius Clay, by John Cottrell (1968)
  • Sting Like a Bee: The Muhammad Ali Story, by José Torres (1971)
  • Loser and Still Champion: Muhammad Ali, by Budd Schulberg (1972)
  • The Fight, by Norman Mailer (1975)
  • The Greatest: My Own Story, by Muhammad Ali with Richard Durham (1975)
  • Free to Be Muhammad Ali, by Robert Lipsyte (1979)
  • "The Muhammad Ali Cookbook" with Lana Shabazz (1980)
  • Muhammad Ali, the People's Champ, by Elliott J. Gorn (1988)
  • Muhammad Ali: Heavyweight Champion (Black Americans of Achievement), by Jack Rummel (1989)
  • Muhammad Ali: The Fight for Respect, by Thomas Conklin (1992)
  • Clay V. United States: Muhammad Ali Objects to War (Landmark Supreme Court Cases), by Suzanne Freedman (1997)
  • The Tao of Muhammad Ali, by Davis Miller (1997)
  • I'm A Little Special: A Muhammad Ali Reader, by Gerald Early (1998)
  • King of the World, by David Remnick (1999)
  • More Than a Champion: The Style of Muhammad Ali, by Jan Philipp Reemtsma (1999)
  • Learning About Strength of Character from the Life of Muhammad Ali (Character Building Book), by Michele Ingber Drohan (1999)
  • Muhammad Ali (Journey to Freedom), by Clay Latimer (2000)
  • Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties, by Mike Marqusee (2000)
  • The Greatest, by Walter Dean Myers (2001)
  • Muhammad Ali: Through the Eyes of the World, by Mark Collings (2001)
  • Ghosts of Manila, by Mark Kram (2002)
  • Lucky Man: A Memoir, by Michael J. Fox (2002)
  • Muhammad Ali: Trickster Celebrity in the Culture of Irony, by Charles Lemert (2003)
  • The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life's Journey, by Muhammad Ali and Hana Ali (2004)
  • The Untold Legacy Of Muhammad Ali, by Thomas Hauser (2005)
  • Clay V. United States And How Muhammad Ali Fought the Draft: Debating Supreme Court Decisions, by Thomas Streissguth (2006)
  • What's My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States, by Dave Zirin (2005)
  • The psychodynamics of white racism: An historical exploration of white racial pathology as elicited by prizefighters Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali : (Dissertation), by Michal Louise Beale (2006)
  • I'm a Bad Man: African American Vernacular Culture and the Making of Muhammad Ali, by Shawn Williams (2007)
  • The Greatest: My Own Story, by Muhammad Ali with Richard Durham, edited by Toni Morrison (2015)
  • Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, by Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith (2016)
  • Ali: A life, by Jonathan Eig (2017)


  • In Billy Elliot the Musical when Billy's boxing coach sets up a match between Billy and Michael, he points to each in turn saying, "You are Muhammad Ali and you are Cassius Clay".
  • Will Power's Fetch Clay, Make Man is based on the friendship between actor Stepin Fetchit and Cassius Clay, later Muhammad Ali. The play explores how each handled life in the public eye as black men in their respective eras: Hollywood in the 20s, where a black actor's career depended on playing caricatures, and the mid-60s, after the assassination of Malcolm X.


Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, AZ—One of the world's largest dedicated Parkinson's Centers

Magazine articles[edit]

Ali appeared on the cover of the April 1968 issue of Esquire magazine in the style of the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian after his conscientious objection to the Vietnam War and the subsequent stripping of his boxing title.
  • Playboy - Interview: Cassius Clay, by Hugh M. Hefner (October 1964)
  • Life Magazine - Cover: Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali), by Editor Henry Luce (March 6, 1964)
  • Esquire - "The Passion of Muhammad Ali", by George Lois (April 1968)
  • Life Magazine - Cover: Muhammad Ali, by Editor Henry Luce (October 23, 1970)
  • Life Magazine - Cover: Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, by Editor Henry Luce (March 5, 1971)
  • Life Magazine - Cover: Ali vs Frazier by Frank Sinatra, by Editor Henry Luce (March 19, 1971)
  • Time Magazine - "The Greatest is Gone Muhammad Ali * Much Ado About Haldeman", (February 27, 1978)
  • ESPN Sports Century - "Muhammad Ali: "The Greatest" by Joyce Carol Oates (1999)
  • Time Magazine - "100 Heroes & Icons: Muhammad Ali", by George Plimpton (June 14, 1999)
  • "UN Messengers of Peace reflect on their work. (Muhammad Ali, Jane Goodall and Anna Cataldi)" An article from UN Chronicle (2005)
  • "The fight of his life: boxing Great Muhammad Ali battles Parkinson's disease" An article from: Science World, by Mona Chiang (2006)

Poetry and quotations[edit]

Trading cards[edit]

  • The 1971 Barratt & Co. LTD is generally considered to be Clay/Ali's true rookie card as it meets most collector's definition of a rookie card. Although it's not his first card, it's widely accepted as his Rookie Card. Example: Tiger Woods RC is the 2001 SP Authentic /900. However, it was not Tiger's first card by a long shot. Ali did not appear on an American trading card until 1982 with an appearance in a Topps Olympic set.

Illustrated books[edit]

  • Ali Rap: Muhammad Ali the First Heavyweight Champion of Rap, by George Lois (2006)
  • The Rough Guide to Muhammad Ali, by Ann Oliver (2004)


  • Muhammad Ali: The Birth of a Legend, Miami, 1961–1964, by Flip Schulke (1999)
  • GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), TASCHEN's massive 800-page tribute weighs 75 lbs; limited "Champ's Edition" is autographed by Muhammad Ali and comes with a sculpture by Jeff Koons (2004)
  • Muhammad Ali, by Dave Anderson and Magnum Photographers (2006)
  • Greatest Of All Time - A Tribute To Muhammad Ali, First published by TASCHEN as a limited collector's edition, TASCHEN reprinted in a slimmed down format from 75 lbs to 20 lbs, still containing thousands of images—photography, art and memorabilia—from over 100 photographers and artists, 2 gatefold sequences, original essays as well as the best interviews and writing of the last five decades (2010)


  • Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, by Dennis O'Neil & Neal Adams, (DC Comics, 1978)
  • New Grappler Baki — In Search of Our Strongest Hero, Japanese manga series portraying Muhammad Ali and a fictional son, Muhammad Ali, Jr.
  • Asterix and the Big Fight - The way Chief Vitalstatistix's strategy of wearing down is opponent and his victory dance is based on Ali's. Likewise, his opponent is a Gallo-Roman chieftain named (in the English version) Cassius Ceramix.
  • The character of Killerbee/Kirabi from the manga series Naruto seems loosely based on Muhammad Ali, and quotes the line "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" in the chapter he was introduced.
  • The fifth Clayface's name is a parody of Ali's, named Cassius "Clay" Payne.

Books for children[edit]


Featuring Ali himself[edit]

  • In 1976 Ali released the album Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay, which told a story meant to educate children about dental hygiene The album was narrated by Howard Cosell, with guest appearances by Frank Sinatra and Richie Havens. A sequel Ali and His Gang vs. Fat Cat the Dope King was planned, but apparently never released.
  • Ali himself released a 45rpm version of the song "Stand by Me" (written by Ben E. King, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller), a track which also featured on his 1963 Columbia album I am the Greatest (released under the name Cassius Clay).
  • In December 1969, Ali appeared on Broadway in the musical Buck White.[1] The show ran for just seven performances; but Ali and the cast performed the number "We Came in Chains" on The Ed Sullivan Show.
  • Ali influenced several elements of hip hop music, as a "rhyming trickster" in the 1960s with "funky delivery, the boasts, the comical trash talk, the endless quotables".[2] According to Rolling Stone, his "freestyle skills" and his "rhymes, flow, and braggadocio" would "one day become typical of old school MCs" like Run–D.M.C. and LL Cool J,[3] the latter citing Ali as an influence.[2]


  • In 1971, New York singer Vernon Harrell released a record about him called "Muhammed Ali" (sic) (Brunswick Records #55448) as Verne Harrell. This misspelling of Ali's name was printed on the labels of the 45s.
  • In 1975, a song about Ali titled "Black Superman (Muhammad Ali)" was recorded by British reggae group Johnny Wakelin & the Kinshasa Band.[4]
  • In 1981, Dutch guitarist Harry Sacksioni composed and played a song called "Ali's Shuffle".
  • The Freakwater song "Louisville Lip" on their 1998 album Springtime is a tribute to Muhammad Ali framed around the story Ali told in his 1975 autobiography about tossing his gold medal into the Ohio River after being refused service in a nearby diner.
  • In his early 20s, singer-songwriter and piano impresario Ben Folds wrote the song "Boxing", a fictional monologue by Muhammad Ali to Howard Cosell pondering the end of his fighting career. The song was inspired by Folds' father's love of the sport.[5] The song was eventually recorded and appeared on Ben Folds Five's eponymous album (1995). It has also appeared in a live version on the album Naked Baby Photos (1998), a solo version by Folds on iTunes Originals - Ben Folds (2005), and in a symphonic version with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra on the DVD Ben Folds and WASO Live in Perth (2005). The song has been covered by a number of artists, most notably[according to whom?] Bette Midler on her album Bathhouse Betty (1998).
  • The R. Kelly song "World's Greatest" is a tribute to Ali, and it is featured on the soundtrack to the 2001 motion picture Ali. In 2002, the song peaked at number 34 on Billboard's Hot 100 US singles chart and at number 4 on the UK singles chart. The song's video features archived footage of Ali as well as an homage to the firefighters, law enforcement officers and emergency medical workers regarded among the greatest heroes of the rescue operations necessitated by the events of 9/11.
  • The British dance band Faithless recorded a song titled "Muhammad Ali" which was released as a single on September 23, 2001. The single reached number 29 on the UK singles chart. The song was included on their 2001 album Outrospective.
  • In 2015, Australian band William Street Strikers used Ali's Attica Prison Poem lyrics on their song "No Surrender", from their album Nothing's Going On. The song was aired on the show Living in the Land of Oz after the death of Ali and became a staple of community radio after its release.
  • In 2016, American soul group, KING, released a song titled "The Greatest", which was inspired by Muhammad Ali's unwavering confidence and grace. The song was included on the group's debut album "We Are King".[6]
  • In 2016, British rock band Coldplay used a sample of Ali's 1977 speech in Newcastle upon Tyne on the single version of their song "Everglow".[7] The speech is also played whenever the band performs the song on their A Head Full of Dreams Tour.

Passing references[edit]

  • Bob Dylan composed a song which referenced the young Cassius Clay "I Shall be Free No. 10" from the 1964 album Another Side of Bob Dylan featuring the lyrics: I was shadow-boxing earlier in the day; I figured I was ready for Cassius Clay; I said "Fee, fie, fo, fum, Cassius Clay, here I come; 26, 27, 28, 29; I'm gonna make your face look just like mine; Five, four, three, two, one, Cassius Clay you'd better run; 99, 100, 101, 102; your ma won't even recognize you; 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19; gonna knock him clean right out of his spleen.
  • In Tom Lehrer's satirical song "National Brotherhood Week", Lehrer speculates that for the occasion Cassius Clay would dance "cheek to cheek" with Mrs Wallace.
  • In 1970, Skeeter Davis recorded "I'm a Lover (Not a Fighter)" about a wife frustrated with fighting with her husband. The chorus is "I'm a lover,/Not a fighter./I kinda like it that way./If you want a fighting partner,/Go live with Cassius Clay."
  • The Fabulous Thunderbirds' 1986 song "Tuff Enuff" contains the reference, "I'd climb the Empire State / Fight Muhammad Ali / Just to have you, baby / Close to me."
  • In 2001, he was mentioned (under the name Cassius Clay) in the lyrics to De Phazz's Death By Chocolate album in the song "Something Special".
  • In their debut 2006 album, British Indie band The Hours mention Ali in their song "Ali in The Jungle".
  • Australian alternative band Butterfingers mention Cassius Clay in their song "Fig Jam".
  • LL Cool J's 1991 single "Mama Said Knock You Out", from the album of the same name, includes the lyrics "Just like Muhammad Ali, they called him Cassius".
  • The Sugarhill Gang's 1979 debut single "Rapper's Delight" includes the lyrics "You see I got more clothes than Muhammad Ali, and I dress so viciously".
  • Archive footage of Ali appears in the music video for "How Far We've Come" by Matchbox Twenty.
  • Japanese rock band the pillows released a song on their 2001 album Smile called "Monster C.C", the C.C standing for "Cassius Clay". The ending bridge contains the repeated line, "What's my name?" In another song, "Hello, Welcome to Bubbletown's Happy Zoo" the group quotes Ali with lines "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee."
  • The Tori Amos song "Professional Widow" contains the lyrics "Beautiful angels calling/"we got every re-run of Muhammad Ali""
  • 50 Cent references Ali in the song "Many Men" using the lyrics "I'm the greatest, something like Ali in his prime"
  • T.I. references Ali in the song "No Matter What" using the lyrics "Ali say even the greatest gotta suffer sometime"
  • In Billy Joel's 1978 album 52nd Street, Ali is mentioned in the opening lines of the song "Zanzibar".
  • In Will Smith's album Big Willie Style in the song "Gettin Jiggy With It" Ali is mentioned : "See me on the fifty line yard with the Raiders, met Ali, told me I'm The Greatest"
  • On The Notorious B.I.G.'s 1995 song "One More Chance", Ali's famous boxing match, Thrilla in Manila, is referenced with: "When it comes to sex, I'm similar to the Thrilla in Manila".
  • In the 1974 David Bowie song "Candidate", Bowie makes a reference to Charles Manson and Ali (by his real name): "Making bulletproof faces / Charlie Manson / Cassius Clay"

Movies and television[edit]

When We Were Kings is a 1996 Academy Award-winning documentary film about the "Rumble in the Jungle", Ali's 1974 fight against George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo).[8]

The high school cheer squad in Happy Harbor on the cartoon Young Justice use Ali's "Floats like a butterfly Stings like a bee" line as their cheer. The school's team name is the Bumblebees.

Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami is a 2008 WLRN documentary which charts Cassius Clay's transformation from young boxing hopeful to cultural icon.[9] The film traces Ali's stunning rise through the heavyweight ranks, his friendship with Malcolm X, his historic clash with champion Sonny Liston, and his subsequent refusal to fight in Vietnam.

a.k.a. Cassius Clay is a 1970 documentary that covered Ali's triumphs and setbacks up to that moment in time.[10]

The documentary When Ali Came to Ireland (2012) tells the story of Ali's first visit to Ireland to fight against Alvin Lewis in July 1972.

Numerous individuals have portrayed Ali in film biographies, including Ali himself in the 1977 film The Greatest.[11] Others include:

Ali has appeared as himself in numerous scripted films and television series, including the films Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962),[19] Body and Soul (1981),[20] and Doin' Time (1985);[21] and the television series Vega$ (1979),[22] Diff'rent Strokes (1979),[23] and Touched by an Angel (1999).[24] He also provided the voice for the titular character in the 1977 NBC animated series, I Am the Greatest: The Adventures of Muhammad Ali.[25]

Ali is featured prominently in a series of ESPN specials in honor of his 65th birthday. The shows include Ali Rap, Ali's Dozen and Ali 65. They premiered on December 9, 2006, at 9 pm EST on ESPN. Ali's fight with Larry Holmes was also the subject of one of ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary series; "Muhammad and Larry" by Albert Maysles first aired on ESPN on October 27, 2009.

Ali appeared on the WGBH series Say Brother, where he spoke about his reasons for not serving in the Vietnam War.[28]

Facing Ali is a 2009 documentary on the topic of all the fighters that Ali faced during his career. Each one is interviewed at length. The film made the shortlist for the 82nd Academy Awards in the category of Best Documentary Feature, but did not make final list.

  • His boxing gloves made an appearance on the Christmas episode of Warehouse 13. Anyone on the vicinity of them "sees stars' without being hit. Was used by Claudia to make the Warehouse more festive.
  • The character Apollo Creed in the film Rocky is heavily based on Ali.[citation needed]
  • In the Total Drama Action episode "Crouching Courtney, Hidden Owen", Duncan mentions Muhammad Ali after Harold's reaction to bees.

Television advertisements[edit]

In 1971, Ali appeared in a television commercial for Vitalis alongside fellow boxer Joe Frazier, and he appeared in a 1997 Super Bowl TV commercial for Pizza Hut with his real-life trainer Angelo Dundee.

In 1978, Ali appeared in a public service announcement for the New York City Department of Health exhorting parents to immunize their children. The PSA ended with the tagline "No shots, no school! It's the law!"

In 1980 Ali also appeared in a television ad for d-CON Roach Proof: after hitting a heavy bag (a training device suspended from above that simulates the bulk of an opponent for punching), he turns to the camera in his boxing gear, raises and shakes a fist, and exclaims to the audience, "I don' want you livin' wit' roaches!"[citation needed]

He also appeared in a commercial for fish sticks circa 1981.[citation needed]

Ali appeared in one of the posters for the "Think Different" campaign by Apple Computer in 1997.[citation needed]

Has appeared in at least one poster advertising Coca-Cola.

Ali appears with other famous athletes in a Gatorade advertisement, narrated by rapper Lil Wayne.

Video games[edit]

Ali has appeared in numerous video boxing games, some of which feature him as the title character. Examples include Foes of Ali, Muhammad Ali Heavyweight Boxing and the Knockout Kings series and its follow-up, the Fight Night series.


  1. ^ Internet Broadway Database
  2. ^ a b "Muhammad Ali: World's Greatest Boxer Was Also Hip-Hop Pioneer". Rolling Stone. June 4, 2016.
  3. ^ "Muhammad Ali: 4 Ways He Changed America". Rolling Stone. June 5, 2016.
  4. ^ allmusic (((Johnny Wakelin - Biography)))
  5. ^ "Ben Folds Five interview in Turntable Online (March 1996)". Retrieved August 6, 2016.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Reed, Ryan (November 11, 2016). "Hear Coldplay's Tender, Stripped-Back Version of 'Everglow'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  8. ^ "When We Were Kings". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  9. ^ "Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  10. ^ "A.k.a. Cassius Clay". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  11. ^ a b "The Greatest - Full cast and crew". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  12. ^ "Don King: Only in America". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  13. ^ "King of the World - Full cast and crew". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  14. ^ "Ali: An American Hero - Full cast and crew". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  15. ^ "Ali - Full cast and crew". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  16. ^ "American Gangster - Full cast and crew". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  17. ^ "The Last Punch". 6 February 2016. Retrieved August 6, 2016 – via IMDb.
  18. ^ Pedersen, Erik (October 30, 2015). "'The Bleeder' Coagulates Cast With Jim Gaffigan, Michael Rapaport, Pooch Hall & Morgan Spector". Retrieved November 16, 2015.
  19. ^ "Requiem for a Heavyweight". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  20. ^ "Body and Soul". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  21. ^ "Doin' Time". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  22. ^ "Vega$: The Eleventh Event". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  23. ^ "Diff'rent Strokes: Arnold's Hero". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  24. ^ "Touched by an Angel: Fighting the Good Fight". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  25. ^ "I Am the Greatest". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  26. ^ "The Last Punch". 6 February 2016. Retrieved August 6, 2016 – via IMDb.
  27. ^ "Freedom Road". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  28. ^ Muhammad Ali and the Vietnam War Archived 2008-02-06 at the Wayback Machine.