Muhammad Ali was the exact same age as my father. Both were born on January 17, 1942. Ali died on Friday, just hours ago, at the age of 74, because of respiratory problems possibly related to his Parkinson's. Ali was another fixture from my childhood; I grew up hearing reports about him on the radio, watching footage of him on TV, and even occasionally reading bios about him in school. He was, in many ways, a larger-than-life figure in the American consciousness—outspoken, politically incorrect, controversial, yet endlessly entertaining. Ali was never humble; he had a clear understanding of his cultural significance—or, more precisely, he initially had an inflated understanding of his significance, then grew into the role as his public prominence increased. I recall one radio broadcast in which the announcer spoke of an incident involving Ali on a plane. The flight attendant (we called them "stewardesses" back then) saw that Ali was seated but hadn't buckled his safety belt on. She asked him to do so, to which Ali loudly replied, "Superman don't need no seat belt!"*
That pretty much sums the man up. I wonder whether Ali ever buckled that belt, but like the champ he was, he obviously arrived at his destination in one piece. RIP.
*Strangely enough, there's a whole Snopes page devoted to exploring the question of whether the stewardess actually came back at Ali with an equally witty reply ("Superman don't need no airplane, either."). Status: undetermined.