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The Greatest Actor of All Time?

Happy 70th birthday to Muhammad Ali—quite possibly the greatest heavyweight boxer who ever lived. But did you realize that he had a long and varied career as an actor? Maybe you’ve seen Will Smith play the champ in his Oscar-nominated performance from 2001’s “Ali”, or Muhammad as himself in the Academy Award-winning documentary “When We Were Kings”. But Ali an actor? Yup…and on film, television AND stage to boot. Who’s that beating up on Anthony Quinn’s Mountain Rivera in 1962’s “Requiem for a Heavyweight”? And are you aware that the champ starred in the Broadway musical “Buck White” in 1969 alongside soon-to-be famous Donald Sutherland and Ted Ross? It ran for 16 previews and 7 performances. The Greatest played himself in 1977’s “The Greatest”, and then the character of Gideon Jackson in a two-part 1979 television movie called “Freedom Road” based on Howard Fast’s novel. Many of you have probably watched Warren Beatty’s 1978 smash hit “Heaven Can Wait”, where Warren plays a back-from-the-dead football quarterback. But that role was originally written as a boxer in earlier stage and screen versions, and Mr. Beatty initially pushed it as a starring vehicle for Muhammad. When that fell through, Beatty ended up playing the role himself. Realizing no one would buy him as a championship fighter—he switched the main role to a football player. In 1981, Ali would play himself again, in the remake of 1947’s boxing classic “Body and Soul”, starring Leon Isaac Kennedy and his wife(at the time)Jayne. There were other television appearances(“Diff’rent Strokes”, “Touched by an Angel”)and way too many variety show and documentary appearances to list. He may not have been anyone’s idea of “great” as a thespian, but it would have been interesting to have seen where Ali would’ve gone if not diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome in 1984. 70 years for the Greatest…may there be many more to come!

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