Life & Culture

Photos Capturing a Young Muhammad Ali at Home in Louisville

Steve Schapiro’s book ‘Ali’ reveals a new side to the heavyweight champion of the world

  • TextBenjamin Hammond

In 1963, American photojournalist Steve Schapiro travelled to Kentucky to shoot then 21-year-old boxer Cassius Clay AKA Muhammad Ali at his parent’s home in Louisville. Here, Schapiro captured the fighter, who had just won the National Golden Gloves competition, through a deeply intimate lens.

Shot over a five-day period, his images revealed a new side to Ali; an unguarded and affectionate young man. Away from the hypermasculine performativity of the ring, Ali exudes love and affection for his family and community – “all the young kids in the neighborhood loved him and he loved them,” notes Schapiro.

No stranger to cultural greats, Schapiro has photographed the likes of David Bowie, Martin Luther King and Andy Warhol, encapsulating their stardom with his technical eye. Two years since the death of the late boxer, Muhammad Ali remains an influential figure, respected not only for his ability but for his activism too. Here, alongside a preview of the book, which comes out this month, the photographer tells us about his experience shooting the famed fighter.

“The book is about Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) in 1963 returning to Louisville after winning the Golden Gloves. It is Ali in the natural setting of his parent’s home, getting ready to go to London to fight [Henry] Cooper.

“Ali is known for spouting his poetry and comments to anyone near him, but at home he was very quiet, practicing shadow boxing continuously in the living room. All the young kids in the neighborhood loved him and he loved them. He rode his bicycle with them, they pretended to box with him and above all he loved to play monopoly with them. In fact, he carried his monopoly box around with him in Louisville.

“He had a love for everyone but particularly his mother, Odessa, who loved to make chicken dinners for him. ​One of the local boys who liked to be surrounded by Ali mentioned that his family had recently moved onto the street and that his little sister Lonnie was there. Ali suggested he should bring her over. After their first meet, there was an instant attraction between them. Lonnie would later marry Ali and would take care of him for the remainder of his life.”

“He was a man who knew himself and had total faith in himself. He loved all people, his  intelligence and humour shone through. He was a born entertainer besides his boxing skills. [I hope this book shows] another side of a great man, the side people don't normally see.”

Ali by Steve Schapiro, published by powerHouse Books, is out June 26. Pre-order a copy here