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Cheers for Ali at literary ceremony in NY

Associated Press Modified: October 5, 2012 at 12:30 am •  Published: October 5, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) — Muhammad Ali owned the night without saying a word.

The boxing great was the guest of honor Thursday night at the 4th annual Norman Mailer Center benefit gala, which benefited the Norman Mailer Writers Colony, named for the late author. An old friend of Mailer, whose classic "The Fight" was an account of Ali's stunning defeat of then-heavyweight champion George Foreman in 1974, Ali was in attendance to watch the first ever presentation of the Muhammad Ali Ethics Award. The $10,000 writing prize for college students is co-sponsored by the Mailer center and the Muhammad Ali center.

In his prime, Ali would have been saved for last Thursday. But he has suffered for decades from Parkinson's disease and ceremony organizers decided to bring him on first in case he didn't have enough energy to last the night. The 70-year-old Ali was not simply introduced, but unveiled.

Master of ceremonies Alec Baldwin moved from the front of the ballroom at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Manhattan to a small, curtained platform on the side as he recited Mailer's very personal list of true geniuses: Charlie Chaplin, Fidel Castro, poet Ezra Pound, and, best of all, Ali.

As Baldwin led the black-tie audience in a chant of "Ali! Ali! Ali!," the curtain was drawn and there sat Ali in a wide armchair, mute and expressionless, but handsomely dressed in a tuxedo and white shirt. Attendees were moved, and unnerved, as Ali looked on impassively like an aging monarch while Baldwin, Oliver Stone and Dick Cavett praised him and shared memories of the clowning, rhyming champ.

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