Veteran broadcaster Sir Michael Partkinson has released a book about his often fiery onscreen relationship with Muhammad Ali—who appeared on his show four times between 1971 and 1981—in which he lifts the lid on his personal feelings about the boxing legend.
Ali died in June of this year. Parkinson got under Ali’s skin—particularly during their early interviews, when the boxer’s take on Islam was skewed by his involvement with the Nation of Islam—and vice versa.
Now, though, Parkinson can look at their relationship in context. He offers up some few insights in the book, which you can win by clicking on this link and following the instructions.
The 81-year-old clearly respects what Ali become, but, as he told The Daily Telegraph, Ali’s path to the man we knew and loved was a long and winding one. “In the four times we talked, he set the agenda,” stated Parkinson.
“So there was so much that I am now ashamed to admit that I didn’t know about him. All the stuff about his upbringing, him being designated as a cretin when he was at school, and later [at least, initially] as too dumb to be in the American army. Which is extraordinary, because we all know he was very clever indeed.”
“I never disliked him,” he said, reflecting on their relationship and whether he considered the sporting icon to be a friend. “But I was discomfited by him in the first three interviews.”
“It was only [seven years later], in our final interview that we actually liked each other,” he added. “He liked me and I liked him. We were like two old codgers nattering away in a corner. There were indications by then that he was on the slide [in 1983, Ali would be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease] and that he knew it. He handled that part with great skill and insight and tenderness.”
During the 1960s and for much of the seventies it is fair to say that Ali had been brainwashed by the NOI. His own views were growing slowly, but the NOI’s doctrines remained strong for much of the decade—leading to views that polarised opinion and which some chose to brush under the carpet when reflecting on the social legacy of Ali.
For too long, Ali bought into the “White people are devils” line trotted out by the NOI, who were siphoning money from their cash cow the whole time via his management. “I don’t believe that he believed half of what he said,” recalled Parkinson.
“I think he took from that Muslim movement what he wanted. But I do believe that he was a Muslim, that he read the Koran, and that he was a man of deep faith. He was a complex man. The racist thing was just a slanging match. He wanted to shock people.”
The book is called Muhammad Ali: A Memoir and you can either win it by clicking on this link or pre-order it from Amazon.