Until his retirement, the king of the television chat show in the UK was Michael Parkinson. For the best part of 4 decades ‘Parky’ interviewed sports stars, celebrities from television and film and business people. His shows were watched by millions.
A short while ago I heard Parkinson interviewed and he said that of all the fascinating people he interviewed one person stood out above all of the rest, Muhammad Ali. Parkinson interviewed Ali 4 times during his career, the first when Ali had shot to fame and was at the peak of his powers, the last as a dramatically slowed down ex-champion. But it is the 3rd interview for me that stands out after Ali had regained the heavyweight title from George Foreman in the Rumble In The Jungle, making Ali the first man to win the heavyweight title 3 times.
By his own admission Parkinson said he was captivated by Ali; he found him ‘beautiful’ and was in awe of him. Parkinson said he was his favourite of all the people he ever interviewed, saying he didn’t quite know what was coming when he interviewed Ali; wit, charm, intimidation or a mix of all three. “He was the most extraordinary man I ever met,” said Parky. That was clear as you watch the interviews, as well as the sense that as Ali got older, and the effects of boxing and his debilitating Parkinson’s disease took effect on The Greatest, it was clear Parkinson was saddened to see how Ali was slowing. You could see he genuinely cared for him, such was the bond the two had formed.