Celebrities honor Ali’s life at Vegas gala

LAS VEGAS (AP) ? Muhammad Ali had seven prizefights in Las Vegas, with his two losses there coming in the twilight of his legendary career. Now, dozens of heavyweight celebrities are back in Sin City to laud a lifetime in the spotlight and join the icon known as “The Greatest” in fighting neurological diseases.

Roughly 2,000 people were expected to attend a swanky gala to celebrate Ali’s 70th birthday on Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the site of most of boxing’s major fights the past 20 years. Ali turned 70 last month, and had another celebration and fundraiser then in his home state of Kentucky.

Guests arriving on the red carpet included football great Jim Brown.

“America started with slavery and ended up with a black president,” Brown said. “Muhammad Ali was a part of that … a big part.”

One of Ali’s daughters, Rasheda Ali, says the gala is a chance for friends, family and A-listers who look up to her father to show their respect for his life and legacy as a humanitarian. In return, she says he’ll be honored to see them there.

“He has not left that need to help others,” Rasheda Ali told The Associated Press. “That’s one of his core values ? his charity and his giving.”

The gala starting at $1,500 per plate was expected to draw some of the biggest names in entertainment and sports ? including David Beckham, Anthony Hopkins, Samuel L. Jackson and Stevie Wonder, among others. They’re planning performances and tributes to a fighter who went 56-5 in the ring with 37 knockouts and became perhaps the most famous athlete ever because of his personality and willingness to publicly stand up for his beliefs.

Ali has lived with Parkinson’s disease for nearly 30 years, a degenerative brain condition that some doctors say can be brought on by punches to the head.

The gala will raise funds for the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Ky., a cultural attraction that celebrates Ali’s life and pushes educational goals on a wide range of topics for adults and children.

Larry Ruvo, chairman of the clinic’s fundraising arm, Keep Memory Alive, said he’s not sure whether the fundraiser will exceed its record of $27 million, but he hopes so.

Boxing promoter Bob Arum said during a pre-gala reception Friday night attended by celebrities including Hopkins and Larry King that Ali will go down as one of the most important Americans in history.

“Without Muhammad Ali, there wouldn’t have been an Obama,” he said. “There wouldn’t have been a mixed-race president.”

Ruvo said President Barack Obama recorded a video tribute message to Ali that would be shown during the gala.

ABC and ESPN plan to air the gala on Feb. 25.


Oskar Garcia can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia.