Ron Lipton and Muhammad Ali (CREDIT: Ron Lipton Collection)
This is probably my favourite of all Ron Lipton’s stories.
One Saturday afternoon back in the mid-2000s, I had returned home having just delivered a Black History Seminar entitled “Muhammad Ali and the Civil Rights Movement” and logged on to the message board of the CyberBoxingZone and noticed a thread about Ali and his declining health. Ron had made a contribution in which he uploaded a photograph of himself with a young and radiant Ali along with another of Ali with Ron’s daughter.
The pictures took me by surprise and thrilled quite a number of posters as did his reply to my post which gently ribbed his post-hippie dress sense and whiskers:
Thank you Ade,
The picture was from the early 70’s/late sixties, at my apt in Verona.
He had come out to visit me after he had given me a ride home in his Green Rolls Royce after several days together travelling.
I have a newspaper article on the Elvis incident and it was a pip. It was the time he came up to Deer Lake and it was after he gave Ali that great sequined robe, I believe for the Bugner fight. I will try to find and then post the Elvis article about us that day.
Ali brought him into the great dining room and I was eating with Lana Shahbazz and Jimmy Ellis. Ali had an old piano in the dining area and while everyone was flipping saying hello to Elvis (who was the nicest, most unassuming regular guy, polite and warm to every single last person there), Ali started playing a boogie-woogie tune on the piano, very well, I might add.
Well, Ali gets the idea to blow a few minds down in the little town bar and we all jump around into several cars with Elvis and his guys. Ali who was loved and well known to all the locals, who were quite used to seeing him, brings Presley into the rear of a little gin mill. Then Ali comes in and says hello to the rednecks there who are loving every second of his company, but are half in the bag in the bar.
Ali yells out: “I want everyone to listen to me for a second. I have a buddy, he ain’t that good, but he does an Elvis Presley impression and I want you to give him a chance, cause he is my friend. Now he can’t really sing and he doesn’t really look a lot like Elvis but let’s give him a chance.”
He says this as serious as a heart attack.
Then they bring in Presley who starts his thing by saying “hello ladies and gentlemen” etc and starts to sing acapella.
First 10 seconds, no one says shit. The more he does this, it starts to hit them: Hmmmm, Ali is a celebrity, Ali knows everyone. Noooo, this can’t be real. Holy shit! Goddamn! It’s really him! And they flip out like you would not believe.
Drinks for everyone, (Ali and Elvis did not drink that night), autographs, laughing, minds sufficiently blown to amuse Ali.
I would give a million to have that on film, but I was lucky to have seen it live.
He was something, plus the best thing about it all, was to see Elvis laughing to fit to bust his sides. Ali and him together was magic itself come alive.
© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)
Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England. He is the author of the books Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal and Jersey Boy: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula. He is a contributor to the recently released Companion to Boxing published by Cambridge University Press.