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In Louisville, thousands of mourners remember ‘The Greatest’

Late sports icon Muhammad Ali began his final journey through the streets of his hometown on Friday. Accompanied by pallbearers such as Will Smith and Mike Tyson, a 17-car motorcade escorted the boxing champion’s casket through Louisville to Cave Hill Cemetery, where Ali was interred in a private ceremony, followed by a 15,000-strong memorial service. Judy Woodruff reports on the day of mourning.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The famous and the anonymous alike paid tribute today to Muhammad Ali. Their final farewell came in his hometown, Louisville, Kentucky.

    It was a day-long tribute befitting the man known as 'The Greatest.' Muhammad Ali began his final journey at a Louisville funeral home. The casket, draped in an Islamic shroud, was guided into a hearse by pallbearers who included actor Will Smith and former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson. A butterfly symbol, a nod to Ali's signature phrase, float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, adorned the windshield.

    From there, the 17-car motorcade wound its way through Louisville, with thousands lining the streets.

  • CROWD:

    Ali! Ali! Ali!

  • WOMAN:

    His impact transcends across the world. It's just a blessing and it makes us as Louisvillians proud that he's from our city and our hometown.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Some even touched the hearse, while others ran alongside it. And the procession paused at sites of significance, such as the Ali Center in downtown Louisville, and the boxing legend's childhood home.

    The 19-mile procession ended at Cave Hill Cemetery on a road strewn with flower petals. Muhammad Ali chose the site a decade ago as his final resting place, with a headstone to be inscribed simply "Ali."

  • WOMAN:

    He spoke to the people. He spoke to all people. All people came together regardless of race and gender and religion. Everyone came together.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The burial service was private, but 15,000 people turned out for the public memorial service that followed. Ali himself had requested the event be open to ordinary fans, and hundreds of celebrities, dignitaries and sports greats joined them.

    They ranged from Jesse Jackson to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, whom Ali befriended in the 1980s and who spoke at the service.

    The formal eulogies began with Ali's widow, Lonnie:

  • LONNIE ALI, Muhammad Ali’s Widow:

    The boy from Grand Avenue in Louisville, Kentucky, grew in wisdom from his journeys. He discovered something new, that the world really wasn't black and white at all. It was filled with many shades of rich colors, languages and religions.

    And, as he moved with ease around the world, the rich and powerful were drawn to him, but he was drawn to the poor and the forgotten.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And there was comedian Billy Crystal, dubbed little brother by the three-time heavyweight champion. Crystal's famous 1979 routine "15 Rounds" was about Ali.

  • BILLY CRYSTAL, Comedian:

    It's great to look at clips, and it's amazing that we have them, but to live in his time, watching his fights, experiencing the genius of his talent, was absolutely extraordinary. Every one of his fights was an aura of a Super Bowl. He did things nobody would do. He predicted the round that he would knock somebody out, and then he would do it.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • BILLY CRYSTAL:

    He was funny. He was beautiful. He was the most perfect athlete you ever saw, and those were his own words.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Journalist Bryant Gumbel met Ali as a teenager, and in 1991 interviewed him about the Parkinson's disease that he battled for decades.

    BRYANT GUMBEL, Host, HBO's "Real Sports": Some of us like him took pride in being black, bold and brash. And because we were so unapologetic, we were in the eyes of many way too uppity. We were way too arrogant. Yet we reveled in being like him. By stretching society's boundaries as he did, he gave us levels of strength and courage we didn't even know we had.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Former President Bill Clinton presented Ali with a Citizens Medal in 2001, and spoke at the dedication of the Ali Center four years later. He gave the day's final eulogy.

  • FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON:

    I think he decided, before he could possibly have worked it all out, and before fate and time could work their will on him, he decided that he wouldn't be ever disempowered.

    He decided that not his race, nor his place, nor the expectations of others, positive, negative or otherwise, would strip from him the power to write his own story.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Muhammad Ali died one week ago today at the age of 74.

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