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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 BST | Updated 10/06/2016 20:09 BST

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
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    A crowd gathers outside the A D Porter & Sons funeral home for the procession to begin for three-time heavyweight boxing champion
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  • Lucy Nicholson / Reuters
    Mourners gather outside Muhammad Ali's childhood home during the funeral procession
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    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
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  • 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
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    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)
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    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)
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    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)
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    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)
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    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)
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    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)
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    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)
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    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)
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    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)
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    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)
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    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)
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    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)
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    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)
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    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)
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    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)
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    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Will Smith attends Muhammad Ali's funeral procession June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/WireImage)
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    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)
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    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)
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    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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    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Imam Zaid Shakir delivers a speech during 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)
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    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: A pair of boxing gloves are placed on a memorial at the Muhammad Ali Center on June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. After the funeral and the eulogy, people reconvened at the Muhammed Ali Center to celebrate the life of the iconic sports figure. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
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    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Malcolm X's daughter, Attallah Shabazz delivers a speech during 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)
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    Will Smith greets fans as the funeral procession for Muhammad Ali makes its way to Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Ky., on Friday, June 10, 2016. Ali, a three-time world heavyweight champion, died June 3, 2016, at 74. (Liv Kaiser/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS via Getty Images)
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    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Muhammad Ali's wife Lonnie Ali delivers a speech during 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)
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    The funeral procession for Muhammad Ali makes its way along Broadway to his burial in Cave Hill Cemetery, in downtown Louisville, Ky., on Friday, June 10, 2016. Ali, a three-time world heavyweight champion, died June 3, 2016, at 74. (Pablo Alcala/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS via Getty Images)
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    Crowds packed all sides of the intersection as the funeral procession for Muhammad Ali turns onto Muhammad Ali Boulevard at 9th Street in downtown Louisville, Ky., on Friday, June 10, 2016. Ali, a three-time world heavyweight champion, died June 3, 2016, at 74. (Charles Bertram/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS via Getty Images)
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    Fans react to the hearse as the funeral procession for Muhammad Ali makes its way into Cave Hill Cemetery, in Louisville, Ky., on Friday, June 10, 2016. Ali, a three-time world heavyweight champion, died June 3, 2016, at 74. (Liv Kaiser/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS via Getty Images)
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    The funeral procession for Muhammad Ali makes its way along Broadway to his burial in Cave Hill Cemetery, in downtown Louisville, Ky., on Friday, June 10, 2016. Ali, a three-time world heavyweight champion, died June 3, 2016, at 74. (Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS via Getty Images)
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    Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, is seen in attendance during the memorial service for boxing legend Muhammad Ali at the KFC Yum Center on June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. / AFP / Michael B. Thomas (Photo credit should read MICHAEL B. THOMAS/AFP/Getty Images)
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    Actor Will Smith (R) attends the memorial service for boxing legend Muhammad Ali at the KFC Yum Center on June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. / AFP / Michael B. Thomas (Photo credit should read MICHAEL B. THOMAS/AFP/Getty Images)
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    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Basketball coach Pat Riley arrives for a memorial service for boxing legend Muhammad Ali on June 10, 2016 at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. Ali died June 3 of complications from Parkinson's disease. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
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    Crowds packed all sides of the intersection as the funeral procession for Muhammad Ali turns onto Muhammad Ali Boulevard at 9th Street in downtown Louisville, Ky., on Friday, June 10, 2016. Ali, a three-time world heavyweight champion, died June 3, 2016, at 74. (Charles Bertram/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS via Getty Images)
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    Hamid Karzai, Former President of Afghanistan, attends the memorial service for boxing legend Muhammad Ali at the KFC Yum Center on June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. / AFP / Michael B. Thomas (Photo credit should read MICHAEL B. THOMAS/AFP/Getty Images)
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    Actress and personality Whoopi Goldberg attends the memorial service for boxing legend Muhammad Ali at the KFC Yum Center on June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. / AFP / Michael B. Thomas (Photo credit should read MICHAEL B. THOMAS/AFP/Getty Images)
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    Pallbearers including Heavyweight boxing champions Mike Tyson (L), Lennox Lewis (2-L) and actor Will Smith (R) applaud during the memorial service for boxing legend Muhammad Ali at the KFC Yum Center on June 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. / AFP / Michael B. Thomas (Photo credit should read MICHAEL B. THOMAS/AFP/Getty Images)
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    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrives for a memorial service for boxing legend Muhammad Ali on June 10, 2016 at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. Ali died June 3 of complications from Parkinson's disease. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
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    LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 10: Boxing promoter Don King arrives for a memorial service for boxing legend Muhammad Ali on June 10, 2016 at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. Ali died June 3 of complications from Parkinson's disease. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
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    LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 10: Members of the public gather at the O2 in London to watch Muhammad Ali's funeral streamed live from Louisville, Kentucky on June 10, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Kate Green/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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    LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 10: Members of the public gather at the O2 in London to watch Muhammad Ali's funeral streamed live from Louisville, Kentucky on June 10, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Kate Green/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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    LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 10: Members of the public sign the book of condolence at the O2's 'I am the Greatest exhibition' before the Muhammad Ali's funeral was streamed live from Louisville, Kentucky on June 10, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Kate Green/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Spectators cheer after Rabbi Michael Lerner's speech during Muhammad Ali's memorial service, Friday, June 10, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Lonnie Ali, widow of Muhammad Ali, thanks friends and supporters during a reception at the Muhammad Ali Center on Friday, June 10, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. The funeral and memorial service for the boxer were held earlier in the day. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Former President Bill Clinton delivers a eulogy during Muhammad Ali's memorial service, Friday, June 10, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
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    Muhammad Ali's daughter Maryum waves to the crowd lining the street as the funeral procession for her father passes in front of his boyhood home Friday, June 10, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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    Sportscaster Bryant Gumbel delivers a eulogy during Muhammad Ali's memorial service, Friday, June 10, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Former President Bill Clinton sits with comedian Billy Crystal along with other guests during Muhammad Ali's memorial service, Friday, June 10, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Actor Will Smith, center, departs the funeral home, Tuesday, June 10, 2016, in Louisville, Ky., before Muhammad Ali's memorial service. Smith was a pall bearer for Ali. (Michael Clevenger/The Courier-Journal, Pool)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger, center, arrives for Muhammad Ali's memorial service, Friday, June 10, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Muhammad Ali's daughter Hana waves to the crowd lining the street as the funeral procession for her father passes in front of his boyhood home Friday, June 10, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Actor Will Smith arrives with his wife Jada Pinkett for Muhammad Ali's memorial service, Friday, June 10, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  • Mark Humphrey/AP
    Boxing gloves hang on the historic site plaque in front of Muhammad Ali's boyhood home as people watch his funeral procession pass by Friday, June 10, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Soccer player David Beckham, left, arrives for Muhammad Ali's memorial service, Friday, June 10, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  • Mark Humphrey/AP
    People line the street in front of the boyhood home of Muhammad Ali as they wait for Ali's funeral procession to arrive Friday, June 10, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. Ali's home is the center building. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
  • John Minchillo/AP
    Actor Will Smith greets the crowd as he arrives with Muhammad Ali's funeral procession while they enter Cave Hill Cemetery, Friday, June 10, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. Ali's body will rode in a miles-long procession spanning his life — from his boyhood home where he shadowboxed and dreamed of greatness to the boulevard that bears his name and the museum that stands as a lasting tribute to his boxing triumphs and his humanitarian causes outside the ring. Ali died last Friday at 74 after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
  • John Minchillo/AP
    Police stand guard along a rose petal covered entrance way to Cave Hill Cemetery before the arrival of Muhammad Ali's funeral procession, Friday, June 10, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. Ali's body will rode in a miles-long procession spanning his life — from his boyhood home where he shadowboxed and dreamed of greatness to the boulevard that bears his name and the museum that stands as a lasting tribute to his boxing triumphs and his humanitarian causes outside the ring. Ali died last Friday at 74 after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
  • Jeff Roberson/AP
    Muhammad Ali's funeral procession passes as onlookers line the street Friday, June 10, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
  • Lucas Jackson / Reuters
    Promoter Don King wipes his eyes as he arrives for the funeral service for the late boxer Muhammad Ali in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., June 10, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
  • Mark Humphrey/AP
    Police clear the street that runs in front of the boyhood home of Muhammad Ali in preparation of the arrival of his funeral procession Friday, June 10, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
  • Lucas Jackson / Reuters
    Musician and actor Kris Kristofferson shakes hands with the Rev Jesse Jackson (not seen) at a memorial service for the late boxer Muhammad Ali in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., June 10, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
  • POOL New / Reuters
    A man reaches out to touch the hearse carrying the body of Muhammad Ali as it drives down Broadway toward Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., June 10, 2016. REUTERS/Michael Clevenger/POOL
  • Lucy Nicholson / Reuters
    Mourners hold signs 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
  • Lucas Jackson / Reuters
    Actor Billy Crystal speaks at a memorial service for the late boxer Muhammad Ali in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., June 10, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
  • Lucas Jackson / Reuters
    Natasha Mundkur, a student at the University of Louisville, speaks at a memorial service for the late boxer Muhammad Ali in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., June 10, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
  • Lucas Jackson / Reuters
    Mourners crowd the venue for a public memorial service for the late boxer Muhammad Ali in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S. June 10, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson