The Saving Grace: Muhammad Ali

by Duke Magazine
Muhammad Ali saving a man from committing suicide Via Boris Yaro/ The Los Angeles Times

On a fateful Monday, January 19, 1981, police officers, a psychologist and a chaplain were unable to dissuade a man from committing suicide by jumping from height. A young black man dressed in jeans and a hoodie was perched on the railings on the ninth floor of highly built structure threatening to fall off to his death.

Image credit to Boris Yaro, a photographer for The Los Angeles Times who heard about the suicidal stunt on the radio and hurriedly drove to the scene. 

At Los Angeles’s Miracle Mile, the suicidal man, reported to be Joe, had been up there for hours and according to a police spokesman, “he seemed to think he was in Vietnam — with the Viet Cong coming at him.”

With this dangerous move, crowd had already formed on the street to see how the awful scene can be salvaged. When a psychologist and a chaplain, as well as police officers, implored him to come inside, he replied “I’m no good,” threatening to jump if anyone’s comes close to him.

In the crowd was Ali’s friend, Howard Bingham, who upon seeing the hopeless effort to prevent the man jumping into the hands of death, then called Ali. The heavyweight champion lived in the neighborhood. “About four minutes later,” Bingham later told reporters, “Ali comes driving up the wrong side of the street in his Rolls-Royce with his lights blinking.”

Muhammad Ali (right) leans out of a window of a high-rise building on Jan. 19, 1981, in Los Angeles and talks with a man, later identified by reports as Joe, who threatens to jump. CreditBoris Yaro/Los Angeles Times

Yaro captured Ali leaning out a window to get a look at Joe. Joe, at that time, is well balanced on a ledge. According to CBS News, the man was saying, “I’m no good, I’m going to jump” while Ali counter-replied “You’re my brother, I love you and I wouldn’t lie to you. You got to listen. I want you to come home with me, meet some friends of mine.”

When the man asked, “Why do you worry about me? I’m a nobody,” Ali in a subsequent interview with the Reading Eagle, said “I told him he wasn’t a nobody. He saw me weeping and he couldn’t believe I was really doing that, that I cared that much about him”.

Fortunately, Ali was able to talk Joe’s mind down, and he put an arm around Joe and guided him inside. The two walked out of the building together, got into Ali’s car and drove to the police station before Ali took him to a Veterans Administration Hospital.

Ali told the presss men: 

“I’m going to help him go to school and find a job, buy him some clothes. I’m going to go home with him to meet his mother and father. They called him a nobody, so I’m going home with him. I’ll walk the streets with him and they’ll see he’s big,” adding “Every day I’m going to visit him in the hospital. I told him I’d stay close to him.”

Joe, according to Ali, was depressed and couldn’t find work while also being treated unfairly by his family. The police reported that Joe was “badly disturbed,” while a follow-up story by The Los Angeles Times showed that Joe was only 21, too young to have served in Vietnam.

But the good news was that the renowned boxer did well, with a police spokesman telling the press “No doubt about it, Ali saved that man’s life.”

It would be recalled that Ali spent three and a half years of his athletic prime stripped of his boxing license for staging a protest against the Vietnam war, the same war which supposedly haunted Joe. Saving the life of a complete stranger for just 20 minutes whilst others had put in their very best for three good hours really painted the connection of Ali with people as being bright.

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1 comment

Emmies May 10, 2020 - 7:04 am

Nice Move by Ali.. A Great Man


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