Liam Neeson pays tribute to Muhammad Ali
Liam Neeson has paid tribute to his "hero" Muhammad Ali.
The 63-year-old actor had been a fan of the legendary boxer - who died on Friday (03.06.16) at the age of 74 from "septic shock due to unspecified natural causes" - since he was a child with his own aspirations of a sporting career.
He told IrishCentral.com: "He was my hero from when I was a young amateur boxer, and schoolboy, back in Ireland.
"I'll never forget hearing that he had beaten the unbeatable Sonny Liston. It was 1964 and it was a cold wet February in Ballymena. As I walked to school that morning, my feet didn't seem to touch the ground: my mind was an excited blur, because somehow the world had changed with that victory."
The 'Taken' star may have given up on his boxing dream but he still admired Ali, and will always treasure their two meetings, in 1981 and 2011.
He recalled: "I got to meet him and before he had his last fight in 1981. Not knowing what to say and with my knees shaking, I said, 'Muhammad, I love you.' He gave me a hug and then signed an autograph for my father.
"I met him again in 2011. He was unable to speak with his advanced Parkinson's. I put my hand over his and whispered 'I love you'. His wife said to me 'He knows who you are'.
"I have met and known quite a few movie stars, male and female over the years. None can compare with Ali's charisma. He was a giant of humanity. As a people, we are all in bereavement."
It was recently announced Ali's public funeral will be live streamed from the KFC Yum! Centre in Louisville, Kentucky on Friday (10.06.16).
His family will hold a private ceremony the day before and he will be buried at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.
Family spokesman Bob Gunnell said: "Muhammad Ali was truly the people's champion and the celebration will reflect his devotion to all races, religions, and backgrounds.
"Muhammad's extraordinary boxing career only encompassed half of his life. The other half was committed to sharing a message of people and inclusion with the world.
"Following his wishes, his funeral will reflect those principles and be a celebration open to everyone.
"He was a citizen of the world and would want people from all walks of life to be able to attend his funeral.
"Lonnie (his wife) and the entire Ali family invite everyone to join them for the celebration in Muhammad's home town of Louisville, Kentucky."
Former US President Bill Clinton will deliver a eulogy while comedian Billy Crystal and sports journalist Bryant Gumbel are also expected to speak.
The three-time world heavyweight champion died in Phoenix, Arizona, and his body will be flown to his hometown of Kentucky in the next few days.
Ali, who suffered from Parkinson's disease, planned the details of his funeral which will be an interfaith memorial service in the Muslim tradition, in keeping with his beliefs.