Muhammad Ali and Parkinson’s Disease

Doctors think the head trauma Muhammad Ali suffered during his boxing career might have contributed to his Parkinson’s disease. Approximately 1.5 million Americans have Parkinson’s disease and 60,000 more are diagnosed with it each year. Boxing may have influenced Ali’s disease, but the data are far from conclusive. His family has suggested that his disease was due to the exposure to pesticides he had experienced earlier in life. But the truth is that we may never know what caused his Parkinson’s—or that of the vast majority of those diagnosed.

Parkinson’s Disease is a neurodegenerative disorder in which cells in a part of the brain that controls movement begin to die. As a result, patients slow down, lose coordination, and tremble.

Ali referred to his condition as a “trial” from God and spoke of preparing for death. He said he thought about it during each of his five daily prayers, but he did not give the impression it prayed on his mind. If anything he seemed at peace with the idea.

He would say that speaking in public was something he had to strive to overcome: “I realize my pride would make me say no, but it scares me to think I’m too proud to appear in public  because of my condition.”

Ali never complained. He would wake, shower and sit in his arm chair watching old boxing reels.  There were no complaints.  No time blaming others for his fate. “He would always say to his family, ‘These are the cards I was dealt, so don’t be sad.”  

How did Ali stay so positive? “He would say, ‘I’ve got the best-known face on the planet. I’m the three-time heavyweight champion of the world. I’ve got no reason to be down.”

Ali will be remembered as more than just “the greatest”.  He was a powerful force on humanitarian missions. He spoke out against racism, war and religious intolerance, while projecting an unshakable confidence that became a model for African-Americans at the height of the civil rights era and beyond.

Ali was known to be a friend of the Jewish people.  Although he railed against Jewish promoters at times and slammed ‘Zionist control of the world’, he also attended his grandson’s bar-mitzvah and appealed to Muslim extremists to release Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl. In an article in USA Today, written by Ali’s good friend, Billy Crystal, boycotted a country club after being told they did not allow Jews.  Ali never attended that club again.

Through expert care, research and grants, it is the goal of the Parkinson’s Foundation and patients everywhere to make the world a better place for people suffering with Parkinson’s until there is a tomorrow without this dreadful disease.