Muhammad Ali’s body has been returned to his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, where he’ll be laid to rest in a city grieving the loss of its favorite son.
The former world heavyweight boxing champion died in Phoenix, Arizona, on Friday at the age of 74 following health problems complicated by a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Following Thursday’s private family funeral, Ali’s coffin will be transported through the streets of Louisville on Friday, before a private burial and public memorial service.
After Ali’s body arrived in Kentucky, the Mayor of Louisville Greg Fischer tweeted: “Ali is now home.”
A private plane, carrying the casket as well as Ali’s relatives, landed in Louisville on Sunday afternoon. The casket was loaded into a hearse and taken to a local funeral home, where dozens of fans were waiting to show their respect.
Also on Sunday, interfaith services were held at Louisville’s Islamic Center in Ali’s honour.
Residents have left flowers, balloons and tributes at Ali’s childhood home and Fischer said: “The champ was a supernatural figure who crossed all kinds of boundaries, from athletics to arts, to humanitarian activities, from black to white, from Christians to Islam, and he belongs to the world.
“There will be people coming from all over.”
Ali’s funeral will be held in his hometown of Louisville at 2pm local time (7pm BST) on Friday. The service, at the KFC YUM! Centre in the Kentucky city, will be open to the public and streamed live on the internet for those unable to attend.
It will be preceded by a Jenazah – an Islamic funeral prayer programme – also for the public at midday on Thursday at the Freedom Hall, where Ali made his professional debut with victory over Tunney Hunsaker in 1960 and fought for the last time in Louisville against Willi Besmanoff a year later.
Among the talkers at funeral will be Malcolm X’s daughter Attalah Shabazz, wife Lonnie Ali, eldest daughter Maryum, American actor Billy Crystal, former US president Bill Clinton and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey.
“Everything that we’re doing here was blessed by Muhammad Ali, and was requested,” said family spokesman Bob Gunnell.
“He wanted the memorial service to reflect his life, and how he lived. He wanted everyone to be able to attend. He was the people’s champ, and he wanted the memorial service to reflect that.
“We want this to be inclusive of everyone. That’s why we set Freedom Hall – not just with its historical significance – but with the size of Freedom Hall, so that everyone fits in.
“That Muslims and people of all faiths could attend, and perhaps learn more and be like Muhammad Ali, and open their hearts to everybody. We expect 15,000 people at the Yum! Centre, and 18,000 at Freedom Hall.
“This is not a political statement, this is not about politics, this is about how Muhammad Ali lived his life.”