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Monday, May 16, 2022

The Beatles and Muhammad Ali

Tony Violanti
Tony Violanti

It was February 18, 1964, when two of the most dominating, revolutionary cultural forces would come together as they were about to change the world.
That was the day the Beatles met Muhammad Ali.
In those sweet, innocent mid ‘60s’ days, it was a pop cultural summit for the ages: the Mop Tops and The Greatest.
Ali, 22, was then known as Cassius Clay: the Louisville Lip.
The Beatles – John Lennon, 23; Paul McCartney, 21; George Harrison, 20 and Ringo Starr, 23 – were then the Fab Four.
Let’s go back in time.
Ali was getting ready for his heavyweight championship bout with heavily-favored Sonny Liston.
The Beatles were conquering the world after appearing on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The boys were in Miami for their second appearance on Sullivan’s “really big show.”
“Meet The Beatles,” was the best-selling album in the world and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was the No. 1 single.
So, some of the Beatles PR people thought it would be cool if the boys met with the fighters who were training in Florida. Sonny Liston – dubbed “a big ugly bear” by Ali, wanted no part of the Fabs.
“Who are these little sissies,” Liston told the New York Times.

Muhammad Ali ,then Cassius Clay, meets the Beatles in 1964.
Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, meets the Beatles in 1964.

The Fabs seemed more interested in Liston, but had to settle for Ali, “the loudmouth who’s going to lose,” Lennon reportedly said, according to Gibson.com.
Lennon was also known for his loud mouth. A few years, later, like Ali, he would be in hot water for failing to keep his trap shut. But we’ll get to that later.
Eventually the Beatles showed up in the Miami gym where Ali was training. And the boxer was late.
“Let’s get out of here,” Starr reportedly said, according to Gibson.com.
“Where the hell is he,” Lennon cracked.
All of sudden, a door opened and out jumped Ali.
“Hello there, Beatles!,” Ali shouted. “We oughta do some roadshows together. We’ll get rich!” Gibson.com reported.
Ali said hello, but the Beatles didn’t say good-bye.
They started clowning around with the fighter. Ali picked up Ringo and held him in his arms.
“Man, you guys are the greatest!” Ali yelled. “The whole world is shook up about you!” Ali used to recite poetry about his upcoming fights, and told UPI: “When Liston reads about theBeatles visiting me / He’ll get so mad I’ll knock him out in three!”
Now, the Beatles were used to being the center of attention but that day Ali stole the show. And the Fabs were not happy, according to Gibson.com. They were ticked at Ali, who a few days later, knocked out Sonny Liston to win the title and start his own legend.
Flash forward to 1967.
Ali refuses draft induction and is stripped of this title and convicted of draft evasion. Ali spoke out against the Vietnam War and all war. He said:
“It is in the light of my consciousness as a Muslim minister and my own personal convictions that I take my stand in rejecting the call to be inducted. I do so with the full realization of its implications. I have searched my conscience.

“I had the world heavyweight title not because it was given to me, not because of my race or religion, but because I won it in the ring. Those who want to take it and start a series of auction-type bouts not only do me a disservice, but actually disgrace themselves.”
That same year, 1967, the Beatles released “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heat’s Club Band.”  Lennon and McCartney wrote and released “All You Need Is Love,” in 1967, stating the Beatles’ philosophy against war.
John Lennon became a peace activist.

John Lennon and Muhammad Ali met later in life.
John Lennon and Muhammad Ali met later in life.

In 1969, during a Vietnam War protest march in Washington, D.C. more than half a million people showed up and most were singing Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance,” as they marched by the Pentagon. Later, the U.S. government would try and deport Lennon.
John Lennon spent the final years of his life as a “house-husband” working for peace. He was murdered in 1980, outside his New York City apartment building. Muhammad Ali, who eventually won back his title and became a beloved world figure, died on June 3 at 74.
Who knew a half century ago what life would bring for the Beatles and Muhammad Ali?
Ali and the Beatles touched their own generations and future generations. They did it with artistic and athletic skill but with something else.
The courage and conviction to stand against war.

Tony Violanti writes about entertainment for Villages-News.com

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