Bill Clinton Opens Up About Muhammad Ali on the Campaign Trail

PHOTO: President Bill Clinton shakes hands with Muhammad Ali after presenting the former heavyweight champ with the Presidential Citizens Medals at the White House South Lawn Pavillion in Washington.PlayHarry Hamburg/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images
WATCH Legendary Boxer Muhammad Ali Has Died at Age 74

Former President Bill Clinton delivered a personal and reflective speech today, talking to an intimate crowd in a neighborhood park about loved ones he's lost, and speaking openly about his affection for Muhammad Ali, the boxing champion who died Friday night.

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The president took on a somber tone, deviating from his political stump to talk about his friend.

"Last night, a friend of mine died, Muhammad Ali," Clinton said. "You couldn't decide, is this guy a boxer or a ballerina? The way he moved, the speed, the grace, the power. I knew it was something magical."

  • President Bill Clinton delivered a personal and reflective speech today, talking to an intimate crowd in a neighborhood park about loved ones he’s lost. For the first time since the passing Muhammad Ali, President Clinton spoke openly about his affection for the boxing champion.

He praised Ali for his conscious decisions to be an activist, for opposing the Vietnam War and for developing his faith and political convictions.

"He made decisions, and he lived with the consequences of them. He never stopped being an American even as he became a citizen of the world," Clinton said.

Echoing the sentiments in a statement he released last night, the former president said that the once most recognizable man in the world was cheerful and humorous, even as he battled Parkinson's disease. He called Ali "greater than his legend," a man who overcame a lot of negative publicity due to the courage of his convictions.

"You want to be better than your publicity, not worse," Clinton said of Ali and then pivoting to his wife, Hillary Clinton, who is pursuing the Democratic presidential nomination. "She's that kind of person. Hillary's always going to be better than her publicity."

President Clinton will give a eulogy for Ali at an interfaith service on Friday in Louisville, Kentucky.

Clinton took more time to reflect on those closest to him whom he has lost, including his mother-in-law and mother. Both women were born in June.

"On this day is my late mother-in-law's birthday," Clinton said. "Two days from now is my mother's birthday. So we always in this week, we stop for a little bit and commemorate our parents' lives."

After saying this, the president said his mother and mother-in-law resented extra responsibilities that fell on women.

"So I think it would be a good thing to have a first woman president," Clinton said to cheers from the small, yet enthusiastic crowd.

He then recognized a man in the crowd with a "Bill Clinton for First Lady" T-shirt.

"Nothing would make me happier than to wear that shirt. Heck, I've made enough decisions in my life. I want to be told what to do. It's great," Clinton said.

The former president ended his speech on very somber and reflective terms talking about family and friendship, but he began his speech on a different note, tackling issues of immigration and for the first time he spoke publicly about Donald Trump's Trump University lawsuit, which was greeted with boos from the audience.

Trump has come under fire from both Democrats and Republicans for saying the judge presiding over the Trump University case is inherently biased because of his Mexican roots.

"He wants to get the judge off because his parents were Mexican immigrants," Clinton said. "Mr. Trump says he can't be my judge because his parents came here from Mexico, and I'm going to build a wall to keep him out. So you've got a choice, but first you got to vote in this primary on Tuesday."

The president took his immigration remarks a step further, criticizing Republicans, accusing them of stalling comprehensive immigration reform. Yet he praised former President George W. Bush for his inclusive views on the subject.

"George W. Bush, he was not afraid of immigrants," Clinton said. "He was not afraid to come to a place like this and say here's why I think you ought to vote for me. And I didn't agree with him on much. But he wasn't afraid."

Clinton continued on Bush: "He believed that people who were willing to come here and work and make the most of their lives should be able to do it and nobody in their party since then has believed that."

Clinton has beefed up his campaign efforts for his wife in California before the June 7 primary. He will visit several Los Angeles neighborhoods Sunday and travel up north to San Jose on Monday.