LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Tens of thousands of people, young and old, lined the streets of Muhammad Ali’s hometown Friday in a poignant tribute, chanting “Ali! Ali! Ali!” and tossing flowers toward the passing motorcade as it slowly made its way to the boxing legend’s final resting place.
The estimated 90-minute, 19 mile procession started at the funeral home and paused in front of the Muhammad Ali Center before heading down Muhammad Ali Boulevard.
The procession then headed down Grand Avenue and passed Ali’s childhood home — the hearse carrying Ali’s body by now covered with flowers. As the procession passed the home, thousands lined the streets, and many of them inched into the road to get close.
One man screamed, “We love you!” Another said, “The champ is here!” Still another man ran alongside the procession, as children tossed more flowers.
As the procession continued, many along the route reached out and touched the hearse as it headed to Cave Hill Cemetery, where hundreds more greeted the champ just before his private burial.
A nationally televised memorial service expected to draw thousands of mourners follows.
Former President Bill Clinton, comedian-actor and Long Beach native Billy Crystal and Bryant Gumbel, host of HBO’s “Real Sports,” are among those scheduled to deliver eulogies at the afternoon service at the KFC Yum! Center, a multipurpose venue. The start time had been slated for 2 p.m. but that has been delayed.
Actor Will Smith, who portrayed Ali in the biopic “Ali,” former heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis, family members and friends will serve as pallbearers for Louisville’s native son.
Smith was among the loved ones and friends in the procession, which was preceded by a small service in the chapel at A.D. Porter & Sons Funeral & Cremation Services.
By 7:30 a.m. about two dozen people already had gathered near the funeral home awaiting the procession. Mourners brought folding chairs and lined the entrance and the road.
Cartie Arvin’s neighbor encouraged her to come to the funeral home. Arvin, who attended the same high school with Ali’s wife, Lonnie, recalled meeting Ali as a child in the 1960s in a Louisville housing development community center.
“We all just started running towards him. Then, he stated giving out money for chips and pop,” Arvin said. “We were just so excited to have that happen.”
She said she was pleased to see the way Louisville has embraced Ali, 74, who died one week ago after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Kenneth Coley, 47, of Louisville, said he came early “to see the champ leave.”
Coley said Ali’s philanthropy and pride in his race and culture inspired him.
“I like how he was so pro-black. He was all about his culture. He never deviated from that,” Coley said.
Coley said his mother, who was a year ahead of Ali at Central High, would regale him with tales of Ali jogging to school and beating the bus there. His classmates would find Ali on the school’s steps gloating as he said, “What took you so long?” Coley said.