Fare Thee Well Muhammad Ali – Fare Thee Well Champ

Regular readers of The Jukebox will know of my lifelong love and admiration for Muhammad Ali.

Tens of millions of words will be written about his legendary life and career. Below is the heartfelt, unfiltered, outpouring of a devotee whose life was immeasurably enriched by the great man’s life.


As usual the music I have chosen speaks with a purity of emotion and eloquence which my writing can never hope to match.

Dare to dream. Dare to dream. Dare to dream.

Pursue your dream with all the energy at your command, all your talent and every ounce of your will.

Wake up in the morning and work every day to make your dream one day nearer to coming true.

You will stall. You will stumble. You will have setbacks and disasters.

Don’t let your dream be dashed. Dare to dream. Dare to dream.

And, when you need inspiration (we all need inspiration) look to Muhammad Ali.

Look up into the night sky. That’s his star shining brilliant and true. Follow the star.

Dare to dream. Dare to dream. Dare to dream.

Muhammad Ali was a skinny Black kid from Louisville Kentucky who dared to dream.

He dared to dream on stepping into his local gym that he would become the best fighter it would ever see.

He dared to dream that he would be a Golden Gloves Champion.

He dared to dream that he would win an Olympic Gold Medal.

He dared to dream that he would beat the terrifying, unbeatable Sonny Liston and become the Heavyweight Champion of the whole wide World!

He dared to dream that he could invent a style of boxing beyond the imaginations of anyone who had ever fought before – float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. No jive you’ll go in five.


He dared to dream that little educated as he was he could charm paupers and peasants and kings and have all of them laugh with love and recognise a true monarch of life.

He dared to dream that he could stand up proud before the might of the state and say, ‘I won’t fight in a war I don’t believe in’.

He dared to dream when they took his title away that one day he would win it back.

He dared to dream when he lost for the first time in his career to the great Joe Frazier that he would beat him the next time and the time after that.

He dared to dream that he could beat the unbeatable colossus that was George Foreman.

He dared to dream that he could break all the rules of boxing and win the title by laying back on the ropes while the hardest puncher in the world whaled on him for all he was worth.


He dared to dream that when he was cruelly stricken by illness that he would find peace of mind and heart and spirit in the love of his family and God.

He dared to dream that a skinny Black kid from Louisville would become the best known man in the whole wide world.

He dared to dream that he would become the greatest fighter who ever lived.

He dared to dream that he would become the greatest and most significant sportsman who ever lived.

He dared to dream that his life would uplift and inspire dreamers all over the world.

He fulfilled all of his dreams and launched millions and millions of others because he pursued his dream with all the energy at his command, all of his vast talent and every ounce of his will.

He woke up every morning and worked as hard as he could to bring his dream one more day nearer to coming true.

Though he sometimes stalled, sometimes stumbled and endured setbacks and disasters he never allowed his dreams to be dashed. He always, always dared to dream.

He was Muhammad Ali. He was exactly what he said he was – The Greatest of All Time.

Thank you Muhammad for all the outrageous boasts. Thank you for all the giddy glory. Thank you for all the thrills and all the good hearted laughter.

May all your tears be dried. May flights of angels sing you to your well deserved rest.

Good Night Champ and may God bless and keep you always.

Muhammad Ali : The Supporting Cast – Bundini Brown

At the court of a King, and Muhammad Ali is nothing less than a king, there must always be a licensed fool : a Jester ; someone who while embodying the spirit of anarchy and ridicule also knows, to preserve their life and position, when to bow the knee and when to sing the praises of their liege.

A Jester, someone who is by nature a rule breaker, has to push the boundaries of taste, manners and position but not forget that there are boundaries – which sooner or later must be enforced to preserve the system as a whole.

Drew Brown, universally known as, ‘Bundini’, occupied this role for the Greatest with festive wit, finesse and wholehearted distinction from the days of youthful glory in 1963 through the ensuing stratospheric ascent, the triumphs, the comebacks and comedowns down to the last unutterably poignant fight with Trevor Berbick in 1981.

Despite a five year exile from the court for flagrantly ignoring the Nation of Islam morality which held firm sway in the camp in the mid and late 1960s he emerges from all the reputable histories as a key figure in Ali’s court.

He was born in 1928 and spent his youth in Florida before, barely into his teens, joining first the US Navy and then the merchant marine. He roamed the globe and learned how to look out for himself, how to drink (he loved to drink and went on shore leave binges throughout his life) and how to mock and outmanoeuvre authority.

He was a tough street poet and philosopher who figured out that God was best thought of as, ‘Shorty’ – the guy you might disregard but who knew everything about you and who you would have to reckon with some sweet day.

He shared a generous love of live and humanity, energy, ego and quick witted humour with his master. They had a deep bond and recognised the distinction in the other.

Bundini was usually aware that while his own talents were far from negligible, with their skilful use an important element in preparing Ali for each battle, they were as different in scale and impact to the world at large as moonlight is to sunlight.

From time to time he fell into the Jester’s trap of overestimating his own importance but an actual or metaphorical cuff around the ear soon cured that. A king may be teased but not taunted.

In partnership they lit up the world as supreme patter merchants and travelling players who performed with as much brio to an audience of one as they did to the TV audience of millions.

Throughout Ali’s career they put on a kind of peripatetic medicine show selling and demonstrating a genuine elixir of life which bottled a 100 per cent proof mixture of drama, excitement, passion, skill and wonder.

Together their act was eyebrow raising, heart lifting, spirit surging, smile inducing, head shakingly outrageous and entirely wonderful.

No Don Draper, million dollar Madison Avenue advertising team, could have devised more successful promotional campaigns than those devised off the cuff by Bundini and Ali. Bundini was there with the net and the honey when they marched outside Sonny Liston’s house when angling for the first title fight.

He was there, boosting the hysteria at the weigh in for that fight, as they yelled over and over the immortal lines, ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee – Rumble young man rumble!’. Poor Sonny thought he was dealing with lunatics and got his mind thoroughly messed up.

Bundini was there to echo and amplify Ali’s preachers calls and to spur him to greater flights of oratory to win the audience for their cause. He was in the corner for the fights and while it was properly Angelo Dundee who set the strategy and was in command of the back up team it was Bundini’s voice you could hear clearest amid the maelstrom, ‘Dance Champ, Dance!’ ‘End the Show, End the Show!’.

Bundini lived every moment of every round: delighting in the Champ’s jabs and feints and the audacious brilliance of his combinations while wincing when he was tagged by his opponents.

It was Bundini, in the dawning early morning light, who could risk the wrath of the sleeping giant and cajole Ali to put on the track suit and pound the roads – putting the endurance into those dancing legs.

Bundini through his own largeness of life could charge Ali’s batteries. A King and his Jester who last beyond initial mirth and diversion must come to see each other in their common humanity and as they do so their bond deepens beyond place and fealty into what can only be described as love.

Bundini was the first of the original court to pass from this realm in 1987. Ali knew that he had lost a faithful friend – someone who had helped create the legend and the myths, someone who knew the price paid in sweat and pain as well as the glow of triumph on the summits.

He also knew that Allah, or call him Shorty, would be royally entertained by the tales only a Jester of genius like Bundini could tell.

Footnote: There are two further Muhammad Ali posts on the Jukebox – on his first title victory and his first Pro fight – Check them out!

Muhammad Ali : The Supporting Cast – Tunney Hunsaker

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…. Tunney Hunsaker!!

Muhammad Ali is a sporting and cultural star to outshine Sirius.

He has become a totemic figure occupying significant space in the global collective consciousness and our dreams. Many of us have measured out our youth, maturity and now old age following and being inspired by his legendary deeds and the generosity of talent, heart and spirit he has expended in his regal life.

In the brilliance of his life and career the lives of many others from an extraordinarily diverse range of backgrounds have been illuminated.

The Supporting Cast series of posts will spotlight some of these lives.

David Remnick in his excellent book on Muhammad Ali calls him the King Of The World which seems entirely appropriate to me. And, like Kings from time immemorial Ali has had inner and outer courts seeking and competing for his attention, his financial largesse and his affection.

Beyond the courts there have been multitudes who have witnessed his reign and interacted with him directly and indirectly as bitter enemies, flag waving supporters, sceptical observers and head shaking in wonder historians.

Again, like a King he has had to face internal dissension and threats to his crown from dangerous outside and foreign sources – opponents within the boxing ring and from society at large.

He has had his trusted advisers, his jesters and his nay saying doubters. He has survived it all and not without heavy cost triumphed against all these forces to end his days in seemingly serene repose.

Enter in Act 1 aged 30 from Fayetville West Virginia weighing 192 pounds, Tunney Hunsaker! The date was October 29th 1960 when Eisenhower was in the last dwindling days of his presidency and the seemingly endless promise of JFK’s new frontier was about to begin.

The venue was Ali’s home town of Louisville Kentucky. Some 6000 souls can say they were present at Ali’s professional boxing debut and Tunney Hunsaker’s cameo role in his legendary career.

Hunsaker was by then already an air force veteran and the serving Police Hunsaker was by then already an air force veteran and the serving Police Chief of Fayetville.

He had turned Pro in 1952 and following a promising early start, winning ten of his first dozen bouts, he had taken a long lay off between the middle of 1953 and 1958.

On his return he was coming off a series of 6 straight losses including one against Ernie Terrell when he laced on the gloves to fight Ali. Ali’s management team, like all those wanting to ease a serious prospect into his career, wanted a match that would teach the young cub something about the pro game but not one that would place him in any serious danger of defeat.

Hunsaker was there to be a literal and metaphorical range finder. He was an honest and durable fighter but not one blessed with outstanding talents.

Ali was starting his professional life after a stellar amateur history. He had over a hundred contests under his belt and he was just back from Rome with a gold medal around his neck.

He was also the proud owner of a hatful of golden gloves titles – all these triumphs attained while still a teenager. His early trainers, Joe Martin and Fred Stoner, knew he was something special but how far could he go? Tunney Hunsaker was the first step on the unfolding story which would answer that question.

As Tunney stood in his corner looking across the ring the young Ali he saw was a superb physical specimen. Six foot three in height and weighing 186 pounds with the sheen of youthful fitness and condition.

More than that he had a personal aura, a glow that said this is somebody who will make a mark on the world.

Hunsaker’s hope would have been the knowledge that frequently lions of amateur boxing do not deliver on their promise in the brutal mans world of pro boxing. Most of them will not become contenders let alone champions.

Did this jive talking flashy pink Cadillac kid from Louisville have a true fighting heart? Could he take a heavyweight punch and recover?

Hunsaker was not to know that Ali, at this stage of his career, virtually lived in the gym spending long sweat soaked hours forging the fighting skills that he would so thrillingly display in the decades ahead. Or that he had a fighter’s heart as big as his imagination which was virtually limitless.

The six rounds of the bout were an education for both fighters. Ali learned that a heavyweight punch did hurt but that he coud handle the pain and not let it distract him from his work.

Hunsaker learned that the kid was much faster with his jab, his movement and his thought than any boxer he had ever faced. All his old pro tricks, the holding and pushing and feints were to no avail against an opponent who had talent and fitness to burn.

Tunney Hundaker became the first pro to learn the hard way how Ali’s lightning jab and the slashing combinations of punches that followed could sap the body’s strength and befuddle the mind.

At the end of the fight Hunsaker was bloodied and well beaten and Ali elated and looking forward to a future as a champion of champions. Hunsaker with typical honesty admitted that Ali was just too good and predicted that he would become heavyweight champion of the world.

We all know what happened later for Muhammad – tales of impossible glory, triumph and tragedy celebrated in story, song and myth.

But what became of Tunney Hunsaker after he had banked the three hundred dollars he got for the fight and the caravan moved on?

Well, he had six more fights winning two before he faced his final opponent in the ring, Joe Shelton, in his home state on April 6th 1962. He lost this fight when he was knocked out in the tenth and then faced the toughest battle of his life as he lapsed into a coma from which he did not emerge for nine days.

His fighting heart and devoted medical care pulled him through and he returned to Fayetville to resume his role as a community cop for decades after. He was inducted into the law enforcement hall of fame and was thrice awarded the title of Sunday School teacher of the year.

Tunney Hunsaker died on April 27th 2005.

There is a bridge named after him crossing the New River Gorge. He served his sport and his community with steadfast courage and loyalty and won their respect and affection.

That’s an epitaph any one of us would be proud of.

This post dedicated on Father’s Day to my Dad, Wally Hickey, with whom I spent many happy times discussing the life and lore of Muhammad Ali.