The Latest: Billy Crystal jokes lighten mood at Ali memorial

The Latest: Billy Crystal jokes lighten mood at Ali memorial

Updated Mar. 4, 2020 10:51 p.m. ET

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) The Latest on the memorial service for Muhammad Ali (all times local):


5:35 p.m.

Billy Crystal drew fast laughs when he took to the stage at Muhammad Ali's memorial service.


''We're at the halfway point,'' he joked. The memorial has been underway for more than 2 1/2 hours after a morning full of remembrances.

He joked that he was clean shaven when the day's activities began.

Crystal is one of several high-profile guests giving eulogies. Bryant Gumbel and former President Bill Clinton are yet to come.


5:30 p.m.

Muhammad Ali's widow, Lonnie Ali, took the stage at her husband's memorial to thunderous chants.

In her first public remarks since his death, she talked about how Ali wanted to be remembered after his passing.

''Muhammad indicated that when the end came for him, he wanted to use his life and his death as a teaching moment. He wanted to remind people who are suffering that he had seen the face of injustice,'' she said. ''He never became bitter enough to quit or engage in violence.''

She reminded those listening that his message still resonates. She says he was prepared to sacrifice all he had, all that he was, to follow his soul.

She also recalled the Louisville police officer who first taught a young Ali how to box when his bicycle was stolen when he was 12.

''Joe Martin handed young Cassius Clay the keys to a future in boxing he could scarcely have imagined.

''America must never forget that when a cop and an inner-city kid talk to each other, then miracles can happen,'' she told the crowd to sustained applause.


4:50 p.m.

Senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett has read a letter from President Barack Obama at Muhammad Ali's memorial in which Obama praised Ali for inspiring ''a young mixed kid with a funny name to have the audacity to believe he could be anything, even the president of the United States.''

Obama was unable to make the trip because of his daughter Malia's high school graduation. Jarrett said she was chosen to go instead because she knew Ali for 45 years.

Obama's letter said Ali was bigger than America, and it noted the world flocked to the champ ''because Muhammad Ali was America. Brash. Defiant. Pioneering. Never tired. Always game to test the odds. He was our most basic freedoms: religion, speech, spirit. He embodied our ability to invent ourselves. His life spoke to our origins of slavery and discrimination and the journey he traveled shocked our consciousness and led us on a roundabout path toward salvation.

''And like America, he was always very much a work in progress. We do him a disservice to gauze up his story, to sand down his rough edges, to talk only of floating like butterflies and stinging like bees. Ali was a radical, even in a radical of times. A loud and proud and unabashedly black voice in a Jim Crow world.''


4:30 p.m.

Two rabbis have spoken at the interfaith memorial service for Muhammad Ali, with one of them receiving four standing ovations and leaving the crowd chanting, ''Ali! Ali! Ali!''

Rabbi Michael Lerner gave a fiery speech in which he declared that American Jews stand in solidarity with Muslims, saying they will not tolerate politicians demonizing an entire religion by the actions of a few.

He says Ali stood up to an immoral war and risked fame and fortune to speak truth to power.

''How do we honor Muhammad Ali?'' he asked. ''And the answer the way to honor Muhammad Ali is to be Muhammad Ali today.''

He listed progressive causes such as ending war, leveling the gap between the rich and the poor and eliminating racism in the criminal justice system.

''The way we get security is for the United States to become known as the most generous and caring country in the world, not the most powerful,'' he said.

He referred to the next president as ''she.'' The crowd went wild and the camera found former President Bill Clinton, husband of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in the audience, smiling and clapping.

Later, Rabbi Joe Rapport of Louisville said Ali was ''the heart of our city ... and that heart beats still.''


4:05 p.m.

U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch says he first met Muhammad Ali 28 years ago when the boxing great visited the Utah Republican at his Senate office.

''The friendship we developed I think was puzzling to many people, especially to those who only saw our differences,'' he said at Ali's memorial service. ''I'd say that where others saw differences, Ali and I saw kinship.''

Hatch says he once took Ali to a children's hospital in Salt Lake City, where they visited with downtrodden children.

''Ali held those kids and looked into their eyes. They would grin from ear to ear,'' Hatch said. ''The nurses were astounded. Never before had they seen someone who had connected so immediately and profoundly with these sick children.

''He may have been a tough and tenacious man in the ring, but he was compassionate and tender around those who he loved.''


3:40 p.m.

Louisville pastor Kevin Cosby says Muhammad Ali loved everyone, whether they lived in the penthouse or the projects.

Cosby was among several faith leaders who spoke at Ali's memorial service on Friday in Louisville. He likened Ali to such racial barrier-breakers as Jesse Owens, Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson.

Cosby says that before James Brown declared ''I'm black and I'm proud,'' Ali proclaimed ''I'm black and I'm pretty.''

He says the boxing great ''dared to affirm the power and capacity of African-Americans.''

Cosby says Ali infused African-Americans with a ''sense of somebodiness.''


3:10 p.m.

The interfaith memorial service for Muhammad Ali has begun at a sports arena packed with celebrities, politicians and athletes.

The crowd applauded as former President Bill Clinton, one of several people set to give a eulogy, arrived.

As the interfaith service got underway, the crowd of up to 15,000 burst into applause and chanted, ''Ali! Ali!'' when a Muslim religious leader welcomed the audience to ''the home of the people's champ.''


2:55 p.m.

Louisville police estimate that more than 100,000 people turned out for Muhammad Ali's funeral procession in his hometown.


2:45 p.m.

An announcer has asked people to find their seats so the public interfaith memorial service for Muhammad Ali can begin. Many seats are still empty.

Boxing promoter Don King and soccer player David Beckham are among those in attendance.

The service at the KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville follows a private graveside service at Cave Hill Cemetery. A Muslim prayer service was held Thursday at the Kentucky Exposition Center.


2:30 p.m.

Celebrities have begun showing up at the memorial service for Muhammad Ali.

Actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, rapper/actor Common, and former NFL Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis pulled up to a VIP side entrance at the KFC Yum! Center on Friday afternoon. They were greeted by cheers from onlookers standing about three rows deep.

That was only the beginning of the celeb parade, as producer/director Spike Lee, NBC ''Today'' host Matt Lauer, NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown and NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar arrived soon after. Most exited their limos away from fans and the media, but Abdul-Jabbar did step out and wave to the crowd, unable to hide his 7-foot-2 frame.

Former boxers Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis and actor Will Smith served as pallbearers.


2 p.m.

The private graveside service for Muhammad Ali at Louisville's Cave Hill Cemetery has been completed.

Next up is the interfaith memorial service at the KFC Yum! Center, where former President Bill Clinton, actor Billy Crystal and TV journalist Bryant Gumbel are scheduled to speak.


1 p.m.

The funeral procession carrying Muhammad Ali's casket has arrived at Louisville's Cave Hill Cemetery.

Spectators stepped into the street to touch the flower-strewn hearse as it entered the cemetery. Someone threw flowers to Hana Ali, Muhammad's daughter, as she rode in a limousine in the procession.

Gerald Wayne Jacobs wept openly as the motorcade went by. He cried, ''The champ is gone, the champ is gone!''

''He was a good man I tell you, he didn't forget where he came from. I wasn't going to miss this for the world.''

Kevin York also held back tears as the hearse drove by over a bed of rose petals at the gates to the cemetery. York held an Ali poster that the champ signed in the early `90s when York spotted him walking alone on a downtown Louisville street.

''He was a friend to anybody. I'm so sorry he's gone I wish he could've kept going,'' York said as he fought back tears.


12:45 p.m.

The starting time for the memorial service for Muhammad Ali has been pushed back.

The service had been scheduled to start at 2 p.m. But with the funeral procession still underway at 12:30 p.m., organizers at the KFC Yum! Center said the interfaith memorial service wouldn't start for at least two more hours.

The funeral procession didn't get begin until nearly 90 minutes after its scheduled start time. The hearse is headed to Cave Hill Cemetery, where Ali will be buried.


12:15 p.m.

Former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield says the massive turnout to say goodbye to Muhammad Ali is proof of Ali's role as a unifier.

Holyfield said Friday that Ali wanted the world to come together. He says Ali is ''probably up above, looking down and seeing all the different races come together.'' Holyfield says Ali used his fame as a boxer to promote his humanitarian ideals.

Holyfield is among hundreds of celebrities and dignitaries paying homage to Ali as the three-time heavyweight champion is laid to rest in his hometown of Louisville.



Crowds are waiting for the arrival of Muhammad Ali's funeral procession at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.

With the cemetery closed to the public for the day, spectators sat in lawn chairs lining the street in front of Cave Hill. Some people sprinkled rose petals in front of a cemetery entrance. A little girl, 2-year-old Lena Worthington, was wearing big purple boxing gloves.

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.


11:50 a.m.

Hundreds lined the rail at Louisville's Belvedere plaza, overlooking Interstate 64, just next to the Muhammad Ali Center.

''Here comes the Champ!'' one man shouted as the funeral procession neared and the crowd fell silent.

The motorcade rolled to a stop.

''Ali! Ali! Ali!'' the crowd screamed. People jumped and waved. Down below, the windows of limos rolled down and arms stretched out to wave back.

Edward Fletcher swears he saw Will Smith wave at him.

The procession paused on the interstate for one minute in the shadow of the museum that will stand as a lasting tribute to The Louisville Lip's legacy.

''My heart is racing,'' said Mona Fletcher, Edward's wife. ''I feel like I should cry, they'd be tears of joy. What an honor, what a blessing I was able to witness this great moment.''

The Fletchers brought their 11-year-old granddaughter, Iyanna Cleveland, from their home in Atlanta.

Edward, a 62-year-old retired firefighter, said he admired Ali since he was a young boy. Ali taught him to be strong and have conviction, to believe in his own greatness and to rely on God.

Alan Hensley, from Indiana, was standing against the rail when he saw Iyanna behind him struggling to see. He offered her his spot against the rail.

Mona Fletcher remarked that it was symbolic of what Ali stood for: grace and kindness, even if it cost him the best view.


11:25 a.m.

Herman Crossen could easily win an award as the best-dressed person watching the Muhammad Ali funeral procession.

The pastor of a neighborhood church turned heads as he crossed Muhammad Ali Boulevard in a tailored cream suit with a white-collared shirt and multicolor tie. Like others trying to keep cool as temperatures approached 90 degrees, he managed to do that and look hip as well as he stood against a brick wall.

''I'm kind of used to hearing that,'' Crossen joked about the compliments and looks.

Crossen said his uncle, also a minister, helped Ali distribute food to needy families and even helped fix up the champion's childhood home. He said his mother helped baby-sit for Ali. No way would he miss the chance to say goodbye to someone from around the way who just happened to be The Greatest.

''I'm excited about the unity here, which is what Ali spoke about,'' Crossen said. ''I wanted to see this one moment on this one page of history.''


11:15 a.m.

Inez Hughes tried not to cry as she gazed at the interstate where the hearse carrying Muhammad Ali's body will soon pass by.

''This is the last time to see him ride by,'' the Louisville native said. ''This is history.''

She stood with dozens of others leaning against the rail overlooking the interstate at Louisville's Belvedere, a plaza along the Ohio River where the memorial will be live-streamed for those who weren't able to get tickets.

Semitrailers passing on the interstate below honked and waved in solidarity.

''He was Louisville, he represented us better than anybody else,'' said Hughes' co-worker, Ashia Powell. ''He stood up for himself and for us, even when it wasn't popular.''


11:05 a.m.

Hundreds lined the streets of a busy Louisville road as a hearse carrying the casket of Muhammad Ali left the funeral home for a miles-long procession around the city.

There were a few chants of ''Ali!'' as the cars left, but most were quiet and reverent as the champ went by. Kenneth McGlothlan chanted ''Ali!'' as the procession started. He said he felt joyous today and that this week in Louisville has been a celebration of ''a great life.''

Children came with their parents and stood in the increasing heat waiting for the procession to begin nearly 90 minutes after its scheduled start time.


11 a.m.

Three women who graduated with Muhammad Ali in the class of 1960 at Central High School weren't going to miss a chance to say a last goodbye.

Veronica Pearson, Yvonne Ford Wilson and Shirley Daugherty lived in the same neighborhood as Ali.

''We thought we were hip and we called him a square,'' Wilson said. ''But he was generous, he was nice. He is what the world sees today, the same man he was then.''

Wilson pulled out a plastic butterfly and a stuffed animal bee out of her purse as she got out of a car across from the arena where Ali's memorial service will be held.

The three women were sad that Ali died but happy the world could celebrate his life.

''It's wonderful,'' Hillman said. ''Who else would pass away and bring all this unity and peace. He has included everybody, young, old, black, white and all religions.''

Wilson said one of her favorite remembrances of Ali as a teenager was when he would stand on corners and make a sound like a siren when cars went by, startling drivers who thought they were being pulled over by police.

''He was so funny,'' she said. ''We've been telling stories ever since he passed. Sometimes you want to grieve and talk about it.''


10:45 a.m.

The area near Muhammad Ali's boyhood home is crowded as people - young and old; black, white and Asian - await the processional carrying Ali's casket.

Debra Brown, who grew up in another part of western Louisville, says she has always admired how Ali has represented the city and wanted to be a part of the events to say goodbye. She said she brought her granddaughter to teach her about his boxing triumphs and his humanitarian causes outside the ring.

''She knows the name now. When she gets older, it will stick in her head. ... When she sees his face, she's going to remember Muhammad Ali.''

Brown says she hopes her granddaughter also will heed some of Ali's teachings.

''You can be all that you can be; talk positive about herself.''


10:35 a.m.

The funeral procession carrying Muhammad Ali's casket through the streets of Louisville has begun.

The 17-car motorcade is expected to take Ali's body on a 19-mile route past his boyhood home and the museum that bears his name.