Zurab Tsereteli About Muhammad Ali
The world is mourning the untimely death on June 3, 2016 of the great sportsman, my friend and colleague in charitable activity Muhammad Ali. Muhammad Ali – Cassius Clay is a real legend of the world boxing. “To flutter like a butterfly, to sting like a bee” – this is his motto which he confirmed by his unprecedented victories in sport. But the “boxer of the century” had a multi-sided talent and was also very much committed to the charitable and public activity.
I was lucky to meet Muhammad Ali in 1979 during the opening of the 5th Para-Olympic Games for children in Brockport, New York, U.S.A. Then, for the Kennedy-Shreiver Foundation I created my monument in honor of the Special Olympic Games – “Happiness to Children of the World”. It was an unforgettable experience that gave me an opportunity as a sculptor not only to address the topic of sport, but also to get acquainted with people who devoted their activity to the support to physically challenged children. Those were representatives of the Kennedy family – Eunice Kennedy-Shriver, Mrs. Robert Kennedy, Senator Edward Kennedy, the great boxer Muhammad Ali – absolute world champion at that time and other celebrities who opened the Games and dedicated their greetings and movements of their soul to the children - participants of the Special Games.
Thousands of people have gathered at the opening ceremony for the Para-Olympic Games – in America, where they very much care for disabled people, the competitions were of great importance. The ceremony also included the inauguration of my monument “Happiness to Children of the World”. Muhammad Ali supervised all the events. I have never seen anything like that. The children came fr om all over the world, probably there were ten thousand children, but there was no one from us. I was told then, that in the Soviet Union there were no invalids.
I was so shocked by the sight of the children without arms, without legs competing in Olympic sports, that at the opening I said aloud: “I am giving my fee for the monument to children all over the world”.
Back in Moscow I asked, if it was true, that we did not have such unhappy children. And I found out, that in the Krasnopresnensky district of Moscow alone annually there were born five-six thousand physically challenged children. It was one more shock for me. Then I took patronage over the orphanage for disabled children, there were 300 children there, I helped them. One boy wrote poetry. He even looked like Pasternak. Andrey Voznesensky and I wanted to publish a book of his poems – all of them were dedicated to the mother.
Many things have happened since then. But the friendship with Muhammad Ali and charitable activity were our common work. In memory of him I have his autograph from the distant 1979, wh ere he wrote: “Zurab is as great a sculptor, as I am a great boxer”. I am sincerely mourning Muhammad and will always remember him as a remarkable man who made an invaluable contribution to sport and charity.