- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 19, 2001

Muhammad Ali arrived at the Uptown Theater premiere of "Ali" on Monday, his once-blazing feet reduced to a shuffle by Parkinson's disease.
Cameras flashed. Fans craned their necks for a glimpse of the former champ, eager for a jibe, a raised fist, any sign of his old fightin' form.
Suddenly, he obliged, whipping off a lightning-quick feint at a stunned photographer as the crowd cheered.
The Louisville, Ky., native, who turns 60 next month, can still electrify an audience with a potent jab, even though his message has long been one of peace and courage.
The evening, a fund-raiser for the forthcoming Muhammad Ali Center to be based in his hometown, drew a mix of sports heroes, politicians and fans still transfixed by Mr. Ali's outsized persona.
"Ali," opening nationwide on Tuesday, stars Will Smith as the charismatic pugilist who transformed a sport and became a beacon of courage for all races.
Former heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe, looking fleshy but fit in a gold suit, said none of today's fighters would stand a chance against Mr. Ali's rope-a-dope routine.
"There is no comparison he'd whup all of 'em," Mr. Bowe said as he strode across the red carpet.
"The poetry in the ring is what got you," Environmental Protection Agency chief Christine Todd Whitman observed before settling into her seat.
Actor Ron Silver, who portrays trainer Angelo Dundee in the film, recalled his ambivalent feelings regarding the fighter's early struggles.
"My perception of Ali changed over the years," said Mr. Silver, who shaved back his hairline and appeared to have gained weight for the role.
"At first, we didn't know if he had the goods or not," said Mr. Silver, referring to the boxer's mettle in and out of the ring. Mr. Ali's controversial career included refusing to fight in the Vietnam War for religious reasons.
"He gave up the title for something he believed in," Mr. Silver said, recalling that the fighter lost the heavyweight crown by refusing to fight in the war.
"Now," he said, "he's the most famous man on the planet a beloved figure."
At the after-screening party at Georgetown's Cafe Milano, Mr. Ali spent time with Mayor Anthony Williams, Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson, philanthropist James Kimsey and other top dollar donors (or prospects) in the highly secured VIP-only Domingo Room, then soaked in the adulation once more as he addressed 400 guests from a podium in the tightly packed main dining room.
Patrons jostled to get near their hero, nearly toppling the restaurant's Christmas tree in the process.
After rattling off a few unexpected ethnic jokes that froze smiles on the faces of Mr. Williams and other politically correct guests, the champ answered a few questions with true-to-form bravado.
"Are you still the greatest?" a young lady called out.
"The greatest of all time."
"Did Will Smith do a good job?" someone else shouted.
"He thinks he's prettier than me."
Then, Mr. Ali said his goodbyes, leaving a legion of admirers to eat, drink and schmooze until well past midnight.
Guests showing up at the theater, party or both to fete the champ included Sen. Orrin G. Hatch; former Sen. Sam Nunn; Joe Robert; producer George Stevens Jr.; lawyer Frank Fahrenkopf; Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti; U.S. Boxing Association supermiddleweight champion Thomas Tate; and ABC "Nightline" host Ted Koppel, whose blue jeans and leather jacket ensemble drew surprised, though admiring, glances.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, bending the ears of, first, Mr. Silver and then famed sports agent David Falk, praised Mr. Ali for showing the world a better, more accurate vision of his Islamic faith.
"The religion of Islam is peace; that's the interpretation of the Koran. This [film] will only help highlight that," Mr. McAuliffe said.
The affair raised more than $50,000 for the Muhammad Ali Center, which, when completed, will carry on what have become Mr. Ali's core issues: human rights, diversity, and conflict resolution through educational programs and interactive exhibits.

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