My dear friends,
I wanted to talk of something totally different in this second appointment with the newsletter, an instrument that I am already very fond of, though it is still at its beginning. Its debut has already received appreciation on the part of many readers, becoming for all of ABF’s friends (and for me naturally) a moment of reflection and sharing on the numerous activities of this living laboratory that is our Foundation.
But I must put off, and I know you will forgive me, all the news (all positive, indeed) of the many open chapters of this book that we are writing together, to pay homage here to a dear friend, a great man a universal icon of courage and civil commitment, who died a few days ago, Muhammad Ali.
When he left us I was in the United States, two hours by plane from him, on stage at the SAP Center in San Jose California. I knew that he had been hospitalized; I knew that the disease with which he had struggled for the past three decades had gained ground (in his body, not in his spirit). In my heart, however, I was under the illusion that “The greatest would have once again knocked down that disease, which had become his most stubborn challenger”.
In fact Veronica and I, had not given up hope, to have, in September, the immense privilege to welcome Muhammad in our house, in Tuscany, at the third Italian edition of Celebrity Fight Night…
Instead from the arena wings, mid evening, my wife took me aside and whispered to me the tragic news, leaving me speechless. There were twenty thousand people in the stadium, and they were all clapping, calling me on stage…I went out in the spot light with my friend and colleague Ester Almeida, I thanked the audience who, unaware, replied raising further their cheers. So I took the microphone, and then I think I said:” It is very difficult, for several reasons, to tell you what I have just come to know”…
I can still hear the reaction of the audience to the news, everybody’s bitter exclamation when I shared the sad news. At that moment I simply added what my heart was dictating me, and that is, that I liked to imagine Muhammad up there in the sky, generous and strong, still fighting as he had always done for a better world.
Then I wanted to dedicate to him “Con te partirò” and it was very difficult not to give in to emotion (an enemy of singing that leaves you upset and closes your throat). But I am happy I was able to get to the end, saying good bye to him while singing. An invitation to sing, were the first words he had told me, years before, when we had first met. Therefore I wanted to wish him a good journey singing.
“Sing for me”, that is what said that man exhausted, but not defeated by disease, the first time I met him, at his home, unexpected guest – thanks to Jimmy Walker a mutual friend – for his wife Lonnies’s birthday. It was a prayer that I could joyfully honor, dedicating him an Italian melody “a cappella”.
On that occasion, Muhammad gave me two of his own boxing gloves autographed, that I keep as a relic. The next day the arena of Phoenix was packed with spectators, in the front row there was Muhammad… I came on stage wearing those gloves and paid homage to him, while the notes of the “Nessun dorma” were resounding.
Ali has been a myth, not only for his but for at least three generations. He is a man who has been able to make people feel his strong opposition to war and violence. He is a universal icon of courage and of civic engagement; he has never stopped to be on the ring, to the last to face his battle against Parkinson.
Thanks to Muhammad, at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, there is a center of excellence, among the most advanced in the United States, dedicated to the treatment of the Parkinson’s disease. Thanks to the support of Celebrity Fight Night and of its inventor, Jimmy Walker, the “Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center – Movement Disorder Clinic” offers practical help to those who are ill and to their families that cannot afford medicines and cures.
For some years I have contributed to the events of this extraordinary historic, philanthropic Institution, through my presence or giving the possibility to auction special evenings to be shared at my home in Tuscany…In 2013 just in Phoenix, from a choral intuition, while we were having a convivial conversation with Jimmy, my wife Veronica and the president of the Andrea Bocelli Foundation, Laura Biancalani, was born the idea of an Italian “Celebrity Fight Night”.
That idea is now an extraordinary reality, whose proceeds support projects of the Andrea Bocelli Foundation and of the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center. A perfect partnership that will continue, with even more force, in the memory of a great friend who will never stop inspiring us…Because, as I have already said, he will always be there, generous and strong, to fight as he has always done for a better world.