PureDWTS would like to extend all of our love and condolences to Laila Ali and the friends and family of Muhammad Ali for their loss. We’ll never forget this amazing legend….not only for his boxing, but, for his endless love and sensitive heart for people the world over. We are all so blessed too that he graced the stage of Dancing With The Stars. Below is a flashback to 2007….
During the live taping of May 7’s Dancing with the Stars, Muhammad Ali slowly shuffled his way into the ballroom, using his wife, Lonnie, for support instead of a walker. Easing himself into a padded black chair, the formerly louder-than-life boxer, who has battled Parkinson’s disease for more than two decades, sat expressionless at first, his left thumb twitching slightly in his lap. But when the legendary fighter spotted two attractive young women in the audience blowing him kisses, his eyes lit up. He pointed at them and waved as the crowd cheered. To Laila Ali, that was just Dad being Dad: “He’s the biggest flirt in the world!”
That night, however, the champ was there for one woman: his youngest daughter, Laila, 29, who followed her father into the boxing ring as a women’s super-middleweight titlist. But this season her knockout dance moves have made her a TV star and a semifinalist on Dancing. After Laila dedicated her waltz to her father, 65, and her mother, Veronica Porsche Anderson (they divorced in 1986), “I lost my focus a bit,” Laila admits. “I got a little emotional” as her home video reel played. “It took my attention off of the dance for just a minute. I started off on the wrong foot.”
Still, she nabbed three 9s, a proud moment for both father and daughter, who share a keen competitive edge—and much more. “I see a lot of me in him and him in me,” says Laila. Their bond has lasted through the strains of fame, divorce and the disease that has ravaged Muhammad’s body—and yes, Dad, who devoured previous Dancing episodes on TV, is as thrilled with her high scores as he was with her KOs. “After he saw the first show, his thing was just ‘Everywhere I go everybody’s talking about you!'” says Laila. “He thought it was funny because he’s used to people talking about him.”
Their May 7 reunion at Dancing was the first time father and daughter had seen each other in a few months. “When we get together, it’s like we haven’t missed a beat,” says Laila. But “it’s not as easy for him to get around as everyone else.” Despite the tremors, stiffness and slurred speech caused by Parkinson’s, Muhammad keeps an ambitious travel schedule to support humanitarian causes. At the home he shares with Lonnie, 50, in Phoenix, his routine includes lifting weights and bike riding. He also likes to pop in old Clint Eastwood movies and answer fan mail—sometimes by calling a phone number in a letter to say hello in his whispery voice. And his playful nature remains intact. “He has dessert for breakfast—ice cream and Popsicles,” says Ali’s older sister Hana, 30.
You knew someone important was coming on Monday night. There was a special black armchair, padded and more comfortable than Dancing with the Stars’ standard stiff ballroom chairs. At the top of the show, it was occupied by a seat filler. And then, just before the fourth dance, when Laila Ali and her pro partner, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, took the stage, the seat filler was ushered away. While cohost Samantha Harris was backstage interviewing Billy Ray Cyrus about the fox trot that judge Bruno Tonioli had just called “crap,” a familiar figure shuffled slowly into the ballroom.
It was Muhammad Ali. He walked in under his own steam. But he is 65 years old and struggling with Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disorder that usually involves a progressive loss of motor control. There was a hush in the ballroom as he settled into the armchair next to his elegant fourth wife, Lonnie. Host Tom Bergeron made note of his arrival and the crowd immediately erupted in a standing ovation. Ali’s mouth, not opening enough to show teeth, curved into the sweetest of smiles as he acknowledged the love in the room.
As he settled in, five red-jacketed ABC pages stationed themselves with their backs to him, a ring of security, doubtless to stop any die-hard fan from rushing to the floor to meet him. But there was never a feeling that someone would do something stupid: the adoration – and the respect — were palpable. “Muhammad Ali’s in the house tonight,” said warm-up Cory Almeida. “Come on, you know you want to give it up.” And the audience went crazy again.
And then, as Laila danced, you could see that her father was entranced. He didn’t move a muscle. But his eyes were glued to her every move. He didn’t watch Maks, just Laila. It must’ve been so bittersweet: To be the former world-heavyweight champion and watch his offspring, another world champion and an extraordinary physical specimen, wowing the judges, the audience and the public with her own powerful blend of athleticism and grace. “It put a little more pressure on me tonight,” said musical director Harold Wheeler, “knowing he was going to be there. I try to do the best job I can for all of the performers. But there was more pressure for Laila’s number in the fact that Muhammad Ali was here. I wanted her to be able to do a good job for him.”
She did a wonderful job, a solid waltz, and walked away with three “9” ratings from the judges. As they rolled into a commercial break, Lonnie Ali took out Kleenex and gently dabbed her husband’s eyes and mouth. Then she straightened his suit jacket and tie. The two have been married since 1986. Laila’s mother, Veronica Porsche Anderson — Ali’s third wife — sat nearby. She, too, only had eyes for her daughter.
To read the full article, see TV Guide.
To the late and great Muhammad Ali. We’ll never forget you and how you touched us all and on Dancing With The Stars too.