Muhammad Ali: 1942 - 2016 • Magnum Photos

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Muhammad Ali: 1942 – 2016

The "most recognised man on earth" through the lens of Magnum photographers

Magnum Photographers

Thomas Hoepker Muhammad Ali, formerly Cassius Clay, boxing world heavy weight champion in Chicago, jumping from a bridge over the Chicago River. Chicago, Illinois, USA. 1966. © Thomas Hoepker | Magnum Photos

Magnum photographers have followed the “most recognised man on earth” from winning gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics, his early pro career with classic studio portraits by Philippe Halsman, onto the seminal behind-the-scenes shoots with Thomas Hoepker in Chicago and Miami, and Abbas in Kinshasa, Zaire for his greatest fight, the Rumble in the Jungle and finally onto Ali’s later life in retirement.

Philippe Halsman Cassius Clay, who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali. New York, USA, 1963. © Philippe Halsman | Magnum Photos
Philippe Halsman Cassius Clay, who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali in 1964. New York, USA, 1963. © Philippe Halsman | Magnum Photos

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay in Louisville, Kentucky, on 17 January 1942, the boxer’s prodigious talent led him to win the World Heavyweight Championship three times. In his own words: “I’m not the greatest, I’m the double greatest. Not only do I knock ’em out, I pick the round. I’m the boldest, the prettiest, the most superior, most scientific, most skilfullest fighter in the ring today.”

 

Thomas Hoepker Muhammad Ali in gym training. Chicago, Illinois, USA. 1966. © Thomas Hoepker | Magnum Photos

"It's hard to be humble when you're as great as I am"

- Muhammad Ali
Thomas Hoepker World heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali takes a break from training to talk on the phone. Chicago, Illinois, USA. 1966. © Thomas Hoepker | Magnum Photos
Thomas Hoepker Muhammad Ali, boxing world heavy weight champion, during training. Chicago, Illinois, USA. 1966. © Thomas Hoepker | Magnum Photos
Thomas Hoepker Muhammad AlI admiring himself in a car mirror. Chicago, Illinois, USA. 1966. © Thomas Hoepker | Magnum Photos
Thomas Hoepker Muhammad Ali's parents, Odetta and Cassius Clay, Louisville, Kentucky, USA. 1966. © Thomas Hoepker | Magnum Photos
Thomas Hoepker “In 1966 I met Muhammad Ali for the third time. He was training in the historic gym of Johnny Coulon in Chicago. His nickname was ‘The Chicago Spyder’. He had been the bantam-weight champion of the (...)

" I am America. I am the part you won't recognise, but get used to me. Black, confident, cocky. My name, not yours. My religion, not yours. My goals, my own. Get used to me"

- Muhammad Ali
Thomas Hoepker The 1960 Olympics Games: Muhammad Ali fighting for the gold medal in the light heavyweight class. Rome, Italy. © Thomas Hoepker | Magnum Photos

Upon receiving the Olympic light-heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, he proclaimed, “[t]o make America the greatest is my goal, so I beat the Russian and I beat the Pole. And for the USA won the medal of gold. The Greeks said you’re better than the Cassius of old.”

A charismatic figure, he was loved for his outspoken support of the civil rights movement; his confidence and self-belief infused with humor: “Will they ever have another fighter who writes poems, predicts rounds, beats everybody, makes people laugh, makes people cry and is as tall and extra pretty as me?”

Thomas Hoepker Muhammad Ali getting his hands strapped up. Miami, Florida, USA. 1970. © Thomas Hoepker | Magnum Photos
Before ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, he said, “I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick; I’m so mean I make medicine sick.” The historic fight pitted Ali against George Foreman and took place in Kinshasa, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo); it was photographed by Magnum photographer Abbas.
Abbas Boxer Muhammad ALI avoids a punch by George Foreman during the World Heavyweight Championship. ALI won by K.O. Kinshasa, Zaire. October 30th, 1974. © Abbas | Magnum Photos

Muhammad Ali passed away on Friday June 3, 2016. “People don’t realise what they had until it’s gone. Like President Kennedy, nobody like him. Like The Beatles, there will never be anything like them. Like my man, Elvis Presley. I was the Elvis of boxing.” – Muhammad Ali.

Thomas Hoepker Muhammad Ali on a bridge overlooking the Chicago River and the city's skyline. Chicago, Illinois, USA. 1966. © Thomas Hoepker | Magnum Photos