Los Angeles mourns Muhammad Ali, the activist, entertainer and icon

More than 2,500 stars line the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Only one of them has never been stepped on.

Lore has it that Muhammad Ali didn’t want people to walk on the name he had taken from a prophet. And so, since Jan. 11, 2002, Ali’s star has been embedded on a wall on the north side of the 6800 block of Hollywood Boulevard.

Ali’s death on Friday has prompted crowds to flock to the area and pay their respects to a man revered for his extraordinary athletic gifts.

The boxer earned the star after a lifetime of various forays into the fine arts. In 1963, he released “I am the Greatest,” a spoken word album, which included a cover of “Stand By Me.” Six years later, he debuted on Broadway in the short-lived musical “Buck White,” portraying a militant lecturer. Ali appeared in TV cameos and had the lead role in the mini-series “Freedom Road.” Documentarians, writers, artists and photographers found their inspiration in Ali’s stance, his boxing ring exploits, his smack talk, his wisecracks.

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“He was a showman and entertaining,” said Ana Martinez, producer of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. “People still talk about his star ceremony. I was there in 2002, and I noticed how captivated the fans were. He was a loved and smart man, and I was impressed. He captured the attention of the people.”

Ali was a beloved figure in Los Angeles, where he lived for some time. He helped build a mosque in South L.A. and drew thousands to fights at the Forum in Inglewood. One of his daughters once worked with the city on gang reduction and youth development.

The same year the boxer earned his Hollywood star, the city of Los Angeles proclaimed Jan. 17 to be “Muhammad Ali Day.”

At the City Hall ceremony, Ali quipped, “All I get is a day?”

Local organizers say it’s critical to the boxer’s legacy to remind people that it was Ali’s fight outside the ring that elevated him to an icon.

“The whole world knows the boxer, the fighter, the heavyweight champ, the sports icon,” Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable President Earl Ofari Hutchinson said.

“Ali was such a source of pride for many in the African American community. He lost years of his career when he refused induction, and he was indicted and of course prosecuted. He didn’t have to say anything; he didn’t have to become the focal point of such derision. He could have been a wealthy athlete and celebrated. But because of that, it made him such a towering and endearing figure.”

Najee Ali, director of Project Islamic H.O.P.E., said the Muslim community owes much to Ali’s staunch belief in his faith.

“He was a humanitarian, philanthropist and a warrior for social justice who always had the courage and conviction to stand up for his religious beliefs,” he said.

“Because of the negative perception that Islam has for some, we could always point to Ali as our best role model. He advocated for the Muslim community. He was the best ambassador for Islam that our community ever had.”

A candlelight vigil will be held at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Bilal Islamic Center, which the boxer helped fund, Najee Ali said.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was among those who chimed in on Ali’s death. The city, he said, was mourning with the fighter’s family.

“Muhammad Ali gave us incredible skill as a fighter, an incomparable gift for words, and a peerless legacy as a sports and cultural icon,” Garcetti said in a statement. “He also modeled the extraordinary power of self-determination — inspiring  millions to treasure their humanity, claim their dignity, and give all they have to the global causes of peace, justice and equality. … ‘The Greatest’ is no longer with us in body, but his spirit lives in the hearts of all who were touched by his grace and strength.”

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corina.knoll@latimes.com

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