Wednesday, March 22, 2023  |



Muhammad Ali and Howard Bingham: A moment in time


When Muhammad Ali’s longtime friend Howard Bingham died this month, I wrote a remembrance of Howard that was posted on with the photograph that accompanies this article. Since then, I’ve received a number of comments regarding the photo, including one from Lonnie Ali, Muhammad’s wife, who wrote, “Oh my! This photograph makes me cry.”

The photo came about by accident rather than design.

While researching and writing “Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times,” I spent considerable time in 1988, 1989 and 1990 at the Alis’ home in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Howard always joined us.

I realized early on that straightforward Q&A sessions wouldn’t elicit much new information from Muhammad. The best way to research was to hang out with him, carry pen and paper at all times and write down whatever came my way. That might happen while we were watching old Ali fights on television, talking about interviews I’d conducted for the book or simply conversing in the course of Muhammad’s everyday routine.

Muhammad was in his late 40s then and healthier than he would ever be again. He was having trouble coordinating the muscles he used in speech but was able to communicate well on most occasions. His physical tremors were becoming more pronounced, but he was still stronger than most men his age. He’d decided to get into better shape. That led to his losing 20 pounds, in part by taking long walks each day.

I’m not a gifted photographer. Never was; never will be. But I thought it would be nice to have some photos that memorialized my trips to Berrien Springs. And I wanted a photo of Howard, who’d become a friend. So I brought a disposable Kodak Instamatic camera with me on one of my visits.

On the day in question, Muhammad, Howard and I went for a walk that lasted well over two hours. From time to time, I stopped to take notes. Muhammad and Howard would keep walking. When I finished writing, I’d run to catch up with them. In one of those moments, I liked the way that Muhammad and Howard looked together. So I snapped a photo from behind. More than a quarter-century later, the image still speaks to me.

Muhammad and Howard aren’t touching, but there’s a closeness between them. They’re relaxed and comfortable with each other.

Howard is carrying two cameras. He always had cameras when he was with Muhammad, and most other times as well. Like the rest of us, Howard liked freebies. Thus, the jacket from the Mirage. He’s physically strong and striding forward.

Muhammad had reached what was an ideal weight for him at that time in his life. But he no longer floated like a butterfly. His feet are close together and not well-balanced as he walks. The phrase “Ali shuffle” has taken on new meaning. His shoulders are a bit stooped. Howard has become his protector.

Then, as now, they’re walking together into the unknown. In the words of Lonnie Ali, “The picture says it all. Best friends forever. I can see them in heaven, walking together in the same way. Howard always at Muhammad’s side, never leaving him to make the journey alone. Some pictures of Muhammad, I can’t look at without becoming very emotional. This is one of them. I wish I could move time back to when this picture was taken and enjoy their company once more. I’d probably kiss Muhammad’s cheeks raw and hug Howard so tight he couldn’t breathe. My two best friends are gone.”


Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at [email protected] He is the author of “Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times” (Simon & Schuster, 1991) and “Muhammad Ali: A Tribute to The Greatest” (Pegasus Books, 2016). In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.