EYE CANDY

A Rare Look at the Late Muhammad Ali, in Action and Repose

Muhammad Ali

In the fall of 1974, set on winning back the world heavyweight boxing title he’d lost for refusing the Vietnam war draft seven years before, Muhammad Ali headed for the log cabins of Deer Lake, Pennsylvania. The home of his training compound, Fighter’s Heaven, it also hosted Ali’s staff, friends, and family – and, for two days in October, the photographer Peter Angelo Simon, who quickly took over 1,000 photos. It was just weeks before the “Rumble in the Jungle,” as Ali called his match against George Foreman in Zaire, and Simon followed Ali everywhere around the Pennsylvania countryside, from a nursing home to a magic show, and is publishing many of the images for the first time this August. Preview Muhammad Ali: Fighter’s Heaven 1974, published by Reel Art Press, with remembrances from Simon, here.

1

“Ali’s daily five-mile run took him through the countryside around his Deer Lake, Pennsylvania camp. It began at dawn, before breakfast, every day while training for ‘The Rumble in The Jungle.’”

Photo © Peter Angelo Simon / Reel Art Press.

2

“No one visiting Fighter’s Heaven could fail to be intrigued by the painted boulders that lined the edge of the camp, and in a spontaneous moment, Ali evoked the epic competition with his powerful adversary. In the 1971 match, Heavyweight Champion Joe Frazier beat Ali in fifteen rounds by unanimous decision. In January 1974, neither was champion and Ali won in 12 rounds by decision. Yet to come was 1975’s ‚Thrilla in Manilla,’ a brutal fight considered an all-time great Heavyweight Championship bout that Ali managed to win.”

Photo © Peter Angelo Simon / Reel Art Press.

3

“Muhammad Ali holding Rashida Ali in his arms, Belinda Ali holding Muhammad Ali, Jr., Maryum “May May” (hands to head) and Jamillah Ali.”

Photo © Peter Angelo Simon / Reel Art Press.

4

“This picture was Ali’s idea. I was shooting as he cooled down after his morning run. We had not yet spoken. ‘Get this!’ he said as he raised the rubber liner under his sweatshirt, ‘It’s called letting out the sweat.’ I knew then that Ali understood I was not interested in him posing or mugging but in the realities of his training. From that moment he did his thing and I did mine.”

Photo © Peter Angelo Simon / Reel Art Press.

5

“After his early morning run, Ali rested outside the camp cookhouse. All the buildings at Fighter’s Heaven were built of logs as Ali had specified to create the old-time feeling he enjoyed.”

Photo © Peter Angelo Simon / Reel Art Press.

6

“During Ali’s visit to a nursing home, one nurse shouted to an old man, ‘Do you know who this is?’ ‘Yes!’ the man said, ‘Joe Louis!’ Ali gracefully nodded in acknowledgement.”

Photo © Peter Angelo Simon / Reel Art Press.

7

“Boulders were delivered to the camp as ordered by Ali. Once placed along the entrance, Ali’s father, Cassius Clay, Sr., painted the name of a boxing great chosen by Ali on each one: There was Jack Johnson, Floyd Patterson, Archie Moore and many others. The feeling was unavoidable that these stone monuments served both as tributes to the heroes of his sport and cautionary auguries of the perils he faced in the ring.”

Photo © Peter Angelo Simon / Reel Art Press.

8

“The mirror in Ali’s gym was like a live photograph in a collage of magazine covers and spreads, and where he observed his punching style as well as his show-off self.”

Photo © Peter Angelo Simon / Reel Art Press.

9

“Ali’s crew attends to him before an exhibition match in a local high school gym. Left to right: trainer Angelo Dundee, body man Wali Muhammad , and corner man and high spirited ‘shaman’ Drew ‘Bundini’ Brown.”

Photo © Peter Angelo Simon / Reel Art Press.

10

“During a break in training, Ali played recordings of his poems ‘Truth,’ ‘Imagination,’ and ‘Destiny’ for a visiting writer and solicited her advice on a talk he was preparing on friendship.”

Photo © Peter Angelo Simon / Reel Art Press.

11

“Even when virtually alone in the quiet Pennsylvania countryside, Ali maintained his self image as Champion.”

Photo © Peter Angelo Simon / Reel Art Press.

12

“Ali enjoyed entertaining visitors in his Fighter’s Heaven training sanctuary. With the “Rumble in the Jungle” just weeks away, the mood in the camp was often playful. The gym’s ring often became a stage where he performed magic, and here he played a role for stage magician Doug Henning and his companion.”

Photo © Peter Angelo Simon / Reel Art Press.

13

“The water bottle can be a welcome treat or terrifying threat for a boxer. During his crucial fights Ali assigned a trusted member of his team to make certain no one had the opportunity to drug his water. Such things were not unknown in professional boxing. His concern was such that even when it had not been out of his guard’s sight, he would frequently empty and refill the bottle himself.”

Photo © Peter Angelo Simon / Reel Art Press.

14

“Preparing for a sparring match, Ali is surrounded by his support team: Wali Muhammad, Bundini Brown, Luis Serria and Angelo Dundee.”

Photo © Peter Angelo Simon / Reel Art Press.

15

“Entering the high school gym where he is to give an exhibition bout, Ali encounters a crowd delighted to see him, and you can see everybody’s excitement and pleasure: the smiling, clapping, taking photographs. It’s Muhammad Ali! And his response to the crowd’s reaction. He reaches out to make contact with it. He owns it.”

Photo © Peter Angelo Simon / Reel Art Press.