Tag: Bob Gunnell

In Ali’s final big show, Hollywood royalty attended a sendoff worthy of a king

David Beckham

The glittering roster of celebrities at yesterday’s Muhammad Ali memorial service is still growing, according to news reports — attesting to the enduring star power of the late prize fighter, who rocketed to global fame from a racially segregated childhood in 1940s Louisville.

Among the latest bold-face names to emerge: actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (who Instagrammed a grinning selfie with eulogist and former President Bill Clinton), and David Beckham, the retired British superstar soccer player.


Beck’s wife, Victoria, the former Spice Girl singer, wasn’t spotted with him at the KFC Yum Center, where the number of mourners at the afternoon event ran as high as 20,000, according to Britain’s Mirror.

Whoopi Goldberg

Other celebrities whose attendance wasn’t previously reported included View talk show host Whoopi Goldberg; filmmaker Spike Lee; actor and former pro-football player Carl Weathers, and triple-platinum former singer Yusuf (Cat Stevens) Islam, says Britain’s Daily Mail and one of Boulevard’s Facebook friends.

They joined already known attendees, including comedian Billy Crystal, who gave one of the eulogies; actor and pallbearer Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith; Today show host Matt Lauer and former host Bryant Gumbel; retired pro boxer Mike Tyson — and the realest of royalty: King Abdullah II of Jordan.

Trump sends regrets

Rumors GOP White House hopeful Donald Trump would attend were quashed during the morning when Ali family spokesman Bob Gunnell said the reality TV star called Ali’s wife, Lonnie, to say he was unable to come, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Ali was one of the world’s most high-profile Muslims, so it’s hard to imagine Trump would have been welcome, given his call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.

The KFC Center service capped a week that drew tens of thousands of spectators earlier yesterday to a 23-mile funeral procession that snaked through the city — all broadcast live to millions online and on television the day he was buried. Chanting “Ali, Ali!” fans waved to celebrities riding with other Ali family guests in the 17-car motorcade. Security, which included the U.S. Secret Service, was tight; an estimated 500 Louisville police officers were there.

Ali and close family and advisors planned the funeral in secret during the final years of his decades-long battle against Parkinson’s disease. Born in Louisville’s West End in 1942, he died at 74 on June 3 in Phoenix, his primary home. He was buried yesterday at a so-far undisclosed gravesite at Cave Hill Cemetery, joining a Kentucky who’s-who of governors, business titans and other luminaries — the most famous being KFC founder Harland Sanders.

The motorcade entered Cave Hill’s iconic main entrance on a carpet of flower petals fans laid earlier in the day:
Embed from Getty Images

Ali chose his Cave Hill site, but location kept secret for now; security a long-term problem

The late prize-fighter and Louisville native personally picked out his Cave Hill Cemetery gravesite a decade ago, challenged only by deciding which plot would be best at the 300-acre burial grounds in the Highlands.

Muhammad Ali
Ali in 1967.

Ali will have a modest marker after his burial tomorrow, following Muslim tradition and his wish to remain humble despite his outsized life — in sharp contrast to the more ornate cemetery art on many of the other 130,000 occupied plots there. Family spokesman Bob Gunnell and Cave Hill would not say exactly where the grave will be, according to the Associated Press. But it’s certain to become a pilgrimage site for worldwide fans of the humanitarian, raising the cemetery’s already high profile — and security concerns as well. Ali will join a who’s-who of governors, business leaders and other Kentucky residents there. The most-visited grave is that of KFC founder Harland Sanders.

Ali died last Friday in Phoenix, where he lived most of the year. He was 74 and had been battling Parkinson’s disease for decades.

Cave Hill traces its history to 1846, when the mayor and city council set out to develop what soon became a “garden” cemetery, which by then was a concept gaining popularity in major U.S. cities. It’s unclear what measures will be taken to keep Ali’s grave undisturbed. Entering the cemetery isn’t easy, however; it’s surrounded by a high brick wall topped in places with razor wire, and the entry gates at Broadway and Baxter and on Grinstead Drive are monitored by security cameras and a guard. (See a map of Cave Hill.)

Securing Ali’s body has already been an issue; gossip site TMZ reported that officers with the Metro Police Department and the Jefferson County Sheriff were stationed outside the A.D. Porter and Sons Funeral Home, which is coordinating some of this week’s events.

Bodynap target.

At other cemeteries, guarding burial sites of celebrities has been a problem. Someone stole Charlie Chaplin’s body from his Switzerland grave and held it for ransom, the Associated Press says. Elvis Presley was first buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis in 1977, but his family moved him to his Graceland estate after three men were accused of plotting to steal it. Authorities foiled a plan to steal Abraham Lincoln’s body at Illinois’ Oak Ridge Cemetery and hold it for ransom in 1876, nine years after he died. Ultimately, his coffin was moved 17 times, mostly due to numerous reconstructions of his tomb and fears for the safety of his remains.

Celebrities’ graves can be a potentially valuable tourist attraction. Continue reading “Ali chose his Cave Hill site, but location kept secret for now; security a long-term problem”

In secrecy, Ali himself made sure his final show in Louisville would be the greatest of all

KFC Yum Center night
Ali’s funeral will be a publicity jackpot for Yum Brands and other companies. Some 15,000 mourners are expected at his memorial service Friday at the Yum Center.

Muhammad Ali planned his celebrity-packed Louisville funeral events this week in a two-inch thick document he developed in secret with his inner circle of family and advisors during a years-long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Ali and his book
Ali and his 1975 memoirs.

Ali signed off on the plan in 2010, according to NBC News, although revisions continued until just days before the prize fighter and globally famous humanitarian died late Friday in a hospital in Phoenix, his primary home; he was 74.

In other words, the Thrilla in Manilla and the Rumble in the Jungle are about to meet the Burial ‘n Louisville before a television audience of untold millions, plus hundreds of thousands more attending in person across the city. The multi-day lineup may well rival “Operation Serenade,” the grand finale President Ronald Reagan’s aides orchestrated for his funeral 12 years ago. (Latest Ali funeral news, plus Twitter updates.)

Ali’s plans are virtually without precedent in recent Louisville history. They will demand the coordination of scores of businesses and government agencies. Although the final cost may never be known, it could run well into seven-figures. The events will be a publicity boon to companies from Yum Brands and KFC to A.D. Porter & Sons Funeral Home; storied Cave Hill Cemetery; a local public relations firm — and even street vendors selling souvenirs along the funeral procession route. Others are trying to cash in, too: One Craigslist advertiser in Nashville is offering a pair of boxing gloves purportedly signed by Ali himself for $20,000.

Bob Gunnell

Some proposals were scrapped, including having his body lie in repose at the Muhammad Ali Center downtown, according to long-time family spokesman and Boxcar PR owner Bob Gunnell. Ali’s wife, Lonnie, worried it would interrupt the center’s operations. “Instead,” says NBC, “Ali added a slow procession through the streets of the city, past the museum built in his honor, along the boulevard named after him and through the neighborhood where he grew up and learned to box. That will happen Friday morning, before the funeral service itself at the KFC Yum Center.”

Royalty in the house

Ultimately, a good portion of the cost will be borne by taxpayers for what will be a huge turnout of Louisville police officers, plus the U.S. Secret Service, FBI and other law enforcement needed to guard the Porter & Sons Funeral Home; control crowds, and protect visiting dignitaries — including at least one sitting king.

King Abdulla
King Abdullah

Actor Will Smith, who played Ali in the 2001 film of the same name, will be a pallbearer. Former President Bill Clinton and the comedian Billy Crystal will deliver eulogies at the massive public memorial service at 2 p.m. Friday at the Yum Center.

King Abdullah II of Jordan and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had been scheduled to speak. But yesterday, they were bumped to make room for two other speakers whom Gunnell, the Ali family publicist, said would be identified later. President Obama could be one of them, along with First Lady Michelle Obama.

The Yum service is open to the public, but tickets — there will be 15,000 — are required; (how to get them). That’s already spurred out-of-towners as far away as Ottawa to offer $200 — and possibly even more — to anyone willing to stand in line to get one on their behalf when they become available tomorrow starting 10 a.m.

“Willing to pay any amount!!!” a man named Adam says in this Craigslist ad. “I am flying in from Canada to pay respects to my childhood hero, Muhammad Ali.”

At least one company was advertising for street vendors to hawk Ali flags, buttons, and other commemorative merchandise from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday along the Muhammad Ali Boulevard procession route and in front of the Yum Center.

Ali boxing gloves
But are they real?

Earn $200-$300!

“Seeking outgoing sales team,” the Craigslist poster said, before taking the ad down. “You will be selling Muhammad Ali flags and buttons, celebrating the life of Louisville’s hometown hero (and world hero)! Your pay: 20% commission; average earnings $200-$300.”

In Nashville, a Craigslist advertiser is selling what they claimed are a pair of boxing gloves signed by Ali at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, where Ali himself lit the Olympic Cauldron. Asking price: $20,000. “This is a treasure find,” the ad says.

Porter & Sons Funeral Home on Bardstown Road is coordinating at least some of the services. The public ceremonies will be followed by a private burial in Cave Hill Cemetery in the Highlands, a much simpler event planned in accordance with Ali’s Islamic faith. He’ll be among other prominent figures from Louisville and Kentucky history in the historic burial ground, says The Courier-Journal. (More about Cave Hill.)

Here’s Will Smith in the Ali movie trailer: