Will Smith: ‘Muhammad Ali Changed My Life’
Entertainment| | By Sara Wilkins
Will Smith has credited Muhammad Ali with changing his life after portraying the boxing champion in the 2001 biopic Ali.
Ali died on Friday, at the age of 74, following a 32-year battle with Parkinson’s disease. His passing emerged days after he was admitted to a medical center in Phoenix, Arizona, for respiratory complications.
Smith, who earned his first ever Oscar nomination for his role as the outspoken sports star in Ali, took to Facebook on Saturday to honor the man he had come to call a friend.
“You shook up the World! My Mentor & My Friend. You changed my Life. Rest in Peace,” the 47-year-old actor wrote. Smith also shared two photos of himself with the late legend, including one behind-the-scenes shot from the making of Ali.
The movie followed a decade of the champion’s life starting in 1964, which included his heavyweight title fight against Sonny Liston and his banishment from the sport for three years following his refusal to be conscripted into the U.S. military, citing his religious beliefs and opposition to America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
Last year, Smith was on-hand to honor Ali at the Sports Illustrated‘s Sportsperson of the Year ceremony, where the Legacy Award was renamed the Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award.
“There’s no doubt that he was a great boxer. He was the greatest of all time,” the Men in Black star said at the prizegiving. “When we think about the legacy of Muhammad Ali, what he did in the ring is not what we think about.
“For nearly two years, I worked to transform myself into the man who changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali and shook up the world, and that’s really what makes my job so beautiful. As an actor, for four or five months at a time, I get to wear people’s lives, so I got to wear Muhammad Ali’s greatness.
“I got to study and feel and embody the soul of the man from the foundations of Islam and the strength of his Muslim faith in his life to the beautiful wake that he always leaves in his magnificent path.”
The actor has had a difficult few months, as he also had to bid farewell to another close friend and hero, Prince. The musician died on April 21 and Smith shared his devastation on Facebook the morning after the superstar’s passing.
“I am stunned and heartbroken,” he wrote. “I just spoke with him last night.”