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Muhammad Ali's Louisville Funeral Sees Thousands Line Kentucky Streets To Watch 'The Greatest' Make His Final Journey

'I'm just glad to be part of this history of saying goodbye.'

10/06/2016 17:42 | Updated 10 June 2016

Muhammad Ali made his final journey through his hometown Friday in a funeral procession for 'The Greatest' as thousands of mourners lined the streets where the future heavyweight champion once chased school buses in hiking boots to train for his fights.

His cherry-red casket, draped in an Islamic shroud, was loaded into a hearse as a group of pallbearers that included former boxers Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis and actor Will Smith left the funeral home in a double file. Ali's nine children, his wife, two of his ex-wives and other family members joined the motorcade, the Associated Press reported. 

The 17-car motorcade set out for a Louisville cemetery on a 19-mile (30km) route that was expected to take Ali's body past his boyhood home, the gym where he first learned to box and the museum that bears his name, by way of Muhammad Ali Boulevard. 

Adrees Latif / Reuters
The hearse (center, L) carrying the remains of Muhammad Ali leaves the A D Porter & Sons funeral home during the funeral procession in Louisville, Kentucky

Fans tossed flowers at the hearse and scattered rose petals along its path. Some chanted, "Ali!" Others were quiet and reverent as the champ went by.

Some 18,000 free tickets for the interfaith memorial service at the city's KFC Yum! Center - which starts at 7pm - were snapped up within half an hour.

Former President Bill Clinton and comedian Billy Crystal will deliver eulogies, while Ali's wife, Lonnie, and daughters, Maryum and Rasheda, are also expected to speak as is TV journalist Bryant Gumbel. The king of Jordan was also expected to attend.

Ali was to be laid to be laid to rest in a private graveside ceremony. His headstone was inscribed simply with "Ali". 

Ali, the most magnetic and controversial athlete of the 20th century, died last Friday at 74 after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. A traditional Muslim funeral service was held Thursday, with an estimated 6,000 admirers arriving from all over the world.

On Friday, Takeisha Benedict and four co-workers were color-coordinated in orange "I Am Ali" T-shirts as they waited along Muhammad Ali Boulevard to pay their respects as the hearse went by.

Lucy Nicholson / Reuters
Jackie Hughes (L), Terry Shumake (2nd from L) and Vicki Carter (3rd from L) gather for the funeral procession for three-time heavyweight boxing champion Ali

"To me, he was a legend to this city and an example to people. I'm just glad to be part of this history of saying goodbye," she said.

"Opening it up and allowing us to be part of it, we're so appreciative."

Hundreds of people crowded the streets in front of the funeral home.

Mike Stallings, 36, of Louisville, brought his two young sons, and the family made signs to wave.

"I've been crying all week," he said. "As big as he was he never looked down on people. He always mingled among the crowds."

Ali chose the cemetery, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, as his final resting place a decade ago. Its 130,000 graves represent a who's who of Kentucky, including Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Colonel Harland Sanders.

Family spokesman Bob Gunnell said the simple stone in Cave Hill Cemetery will be in keeping with Islamic tradition.

JIM WATSON via Getty Images
Malik Parker, 13, shadow boxes outside Ali's childhood home where mourners wait to pay their respects

Ali himself decided years ago that when he died, the funeral would be open to ordinary fans, not just VIPs. 

Louisville is accustomed to being in the limelight each May during the Kentucky Derby. But the send-off for the three-time heavyweight champion and global advocate for social justice loomed as one of the city's most historic events.

"We've all been dreading the passing of the champ, but at the same time we knew ultimately it would come," Mayor Greg Fischer said.

"It was selfish for us to think that we could hold on to him forever. Our job now, as a city, is to send him off with the class and dignity and respect that he deserves."

Tyson was added at the last moment to the list of pallbearers. Gunnell said that Tyson was highly emotional upon learning of Ali's death and wasn't sure if he could handle the memorial, but ended up catching a late flight.

Rumors that Donald Trump would attend were quashed Friday morning when Gunnell said the Republican presidential candidate called Ali's wife, Lonnie, to inform her that he was unable to make it.

People gathered early in the day outside Ali's boyhood home, which was decorated with balloons, flags, flowers and posters. Fans took photos of themselves in front of the small pink house with white trim. Some people staked out their places nearby with lawn chairs.

The Ali Center stopped charging admission. A sightseeing company began tours of Ali's path through the city. Businesses printed his quotes across their billboards. City buses flashed "Ali — The Greatest" in orange lights. A downtown bridge will be illuminated the rest of the week in red and gold: red for his boxing gloves, gold for his Olympic medal.

"Everybody feels a sense of loss with Ali's passing," said Mustafa Abdush-Shakur, who traveled from Connecticut. "But there's no need to be sad for him. We're all going to make that trip."

  • Adrees Latif / Reuters
    The casket bearing the remains of Muhammad Ali is loaded into a hearse at the A D Porter & Sons funeral home during the funeral procession for the three-time heavyweight boxing champion in Louisville, Kentucky, on June 10
  • Adrees Latif / Reuters
    The hearse (center, L) carrying the remains of Muhammad Ali leaves the A D Porter & Sons funeral home
  • Adrees Latif / Reuters
  • Adrees Latif / Reuters
  • XXSTRINGERXX xxxxx / Reuters
    A crowd gathers outside the A D Porter & Sons funeral home for the procession to begin for three-time heavyweight boxing champion
  • Adrees Latif / Reuters
  • Lucy Nicholson / Reuters
    Mourners gather outside Muhammad Ali's childhood home during the funeral procession
  • John Sommers II / Reuters
    Billy Roarx (L) and Bobby Green (R) wait for the hearse to drive by with the casket of the late Muhammad Ali down Muhammad Ali Boulevard to Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky
  • Adrees Latif / Reuters
  • Lucy Nicholson / Reuters
    Mourners hold signs outside Muhammad Ali's childhood home
  • Lucy Nicholson / Reuters
    A child holds a banner outside Muhammad Ali's childhood home during the funeral procession for the three-time heavyweight boxing champion in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., June 10, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
  • Stephen J. Cohen via Getty Images
    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Billy Crystal attends the Muhammad Ali Memorial Service at KFC YUM! Center on June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/WireImage)
  • Stephen J. Cohen via Getty Images
    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Rashdea Ali-Walsh attends the Muhammad Ali Memorial Service at KFC YUM! Center on June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/WireImage)
  • Stephen J. Cohen via Getty Images
    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Former President Bill Clinton attends the Muhammad Ali Memorial Service at KFC YUM! Center on June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/WireImage)
  • Stephen J. Cohen via Getty Images
    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Lonnie Ali attends the Muhammad Ali Memorial Service at KFC YUM! Center on June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/WireImage)
  • John Moore via Getty Images
    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: (EDITOR'S NOTE: Image was created as an Equirectangular Panorama. Import image into a panoramic player to create an interactive 360 degree view) A portrait of Muhammed Ali is displayed at a makeshift shrine at the Muhammad Ali Center after the former champ was laid to rest on June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. Earlier in the day a funeral procession and memorial service gave the public an opportunity to honor world heavyweight boxing champion from Louisville. Ali died on June 3 at age 74. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
  • Stephen J. Cohen via Getty Images
    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Natasha Mundkur attends the Muhammad Ali Memorial Service at KFC YUM! Center on June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/WireImage)
  • Stephen J. Cohen via Getty Images
    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Bryant Gumbel attends the Muhammad Ali Memorial Service at KFC YUM! Center on June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/WireImage)
  • Stephen J. Cohen via Getty Images
    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Whoopi Goldberg attends the Muhammad Ali Memorial Service at KFC YUM! Center on June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/WireImage)
  • Stephen J. Cohen via Getty Images
    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Natasha Mundkur attends the Muhammad Ali Memorial Service at KFC YUM! Center on June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/WireImage)
  • Stephen J. Cohen via Getty Images
    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Ray Lewis attends the Muhammad Ali Memorial Service at KFC YUM! Center on June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/WireImage)
  • Stephen J. Cohen via Getty Images
    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Imam Zaid Shakir attends the Muhammad Ali Memorial Service at KFC YUM! Center on June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/WireImage)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Arnold Schwarzenegger attends the memorial service for boxing legend Muhammad Ali at the KFC Yum Center in Louisville, Kentucky on June 10, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Will Smith attends the memorial service for boxing legend Muhammad Ali at the KFC Yum Center in Louisville, Kentucky on June 10, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Former President Bill Clinton attends the memorial service for boxing legend Muhammad Ali at the KFC Yum Center in Louisville, Kentucky on June 10, 2016. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Stephen J. Cohen via Getty Images
    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Billy Crystal attends the Muhammad Ali Memorial Service at KFC YUM! Center on June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/WireImage)
  • Stephen J. Cohen via Getty Images
    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Will Smith attends Muhammad Ali's funeral procession June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/WireImage)
  • Stephen J. Cohen via Getty Images
    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Imam Zaid Shakir speaks as Rabbi Michael Lerner looks on at the Muhammad Ali Memorial Service at KFC YUM! Center on June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/WireImage)
  • Stephen J. Cohen via Getty Images
    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis attend the Muhammad Ali Memorial Service at KFC YUM! Center on June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/WireImage)
  • Stephen J. Cohen via Getty Images
    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: A general view during the Muhammad Ali Memorial Service at KFC YUM! Center on June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/WireImage)
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