Muhammad Ali's true greatness was to never stop being himself 5 years ago

Muhammad Ali's true greatness was to never stop being himself

I have no time for disingenuous internet grief.

Whenever someone famous dies, the reaction is always the same. Of course there are those genuinely crushed by the passing of one of their heroes, but so many others cry crocodile tears in the mawkish zeal to be seen to be devastated.


There is so much fake bullshit about. Every other RIP is in the desperate hope of being RT'd. Each social media sentiment of sorrow is all about being shared. It therefore feels trite and hollow to express your own feelings when someone significant to you is lost.

But the death of Muhammad Ali hurts. For me as with many others, he is a role model inherited from my mum and dad. He has always been more than just a famous person on the telly; he was like a family member who everyone was incredibly proud of.

You'd grow up learning about this black superhero from the olden days, who came from nothing and ruled the world. He meant different things to different people, but to any immigrant family, Ali proved you could start from nowt and become something special.

Possibly the single biggest reason why his life and achievements resonate so acutely with so many around the globe is because he always kept it real. He didn't care what people thought of him, and that just made everyone care about him more.

To anyone who felt like they were on the outside looking in, Muhammad was an inspiration. When you're a minority or the odd one out, you tend to become meek and deferential. To see someone so brash and utterly confident about his differences was glorious.


The thing with Ali is he was never going to play the game. He was never going to be who you wanted him to be. Not for money, not for the glory, and not for a pat on the head. He upset and angered all the right people, and that is so important in life.

But let us not pretend he was perfect, far from it. When you asked your parents about things he did wrong, you'd get a cross face in return as if it was blasphemy. And yet he did cheat on his partners, and some of his verbal jousting was just plain cruel.

And yet, for me at least, those imperfections weirdly made me love him more. Because they proved he wasn't a God or prophet. He was an imperfect man, with weaknesses and failings, who still managed to change the world by giving it the middle finger.

Ali was such a brilliant contradiction of a man. Naturally loving and yet wilfully divisive; gentle and sweet, and yet paid to pummel his foes into submission; a beautiful man of intelligence and wit, who was built like a tank and was twice as powerful.


Ali was famed for his speed and bravado, and yet one of his greatest victories was playing punchbag to George Foreman in Manilla. And of course there was the cruel irony of the Louisville Lip growing slurred and then silent with age and ailment.

But again, such was his charisma and undying light, that Ali earned yet more love in his later years for fighting his quiet fight and remaining resolutely grateful for everything. It seemed that the more life threw at him, the greater was his appreciation for silver linings.

And now he's gone and I'm properly sad, like crying sad. I know it seems like another sad emoji in the sea of empty platitudes, but it's true. Ali taught me and everyone that being yourself is the hardest challenge and finest achievement of all. That is what makes you the greatest.