1977 movie starring Muhammad Ali as himself on Bounce TV Monday night

By Jill Vejnoska on the AJC Radio & TV Talk blog on June 5, 2016

As if we needed any more proof he truly was one of a kind: When Hollywood made a movie about him in 1977, the person chosen to play Muhammad Ali was . . . none other than Muhammad Ali.

“The Greatest,” which also starred James Earl Jones as Malcolm X and Ernest Borgnine as legendary boxing trainer and cornerman Angelo Dundee, faded somewhat from public memory with time’s passage and Will Smith’s Oscar-nominated turn as Ali in the 2001 biopic.

On Monday night, Bounce TV will bring it front and center again. The Atlanta based broadcast TV network will air “The Greatest” at 10 p.m., as part of a special presentation celebrating the life of Ali, who passed away Friday at the age of 74.

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Based on his autobiographical book,  “The Greatest: My Own Story,”  the movie is a dramatized version of Ali’s life through the mid-1970s. Starting around the time of his 1960 Olympic gold medal boxing win as Cassius Clay and continuing through his stunning defeat of Sonny Liston to become heavyweight champion of the world, it also covers Ali’s conversion to Islam and subsequent refusal to fight in Vietnam — a principled stand that led to a lengthy court battle and Ali being stripped of his heavyweight title. The movie culminates with his return to the ring, including 1974’s sensational “Rumble in the Jungle,” when the underdog Ali won back his heavyweight crown from the previously undefeated George Foreman .

Others in the large cast include Robert Duvall, Paul Winfield, and, as Liston, Roger E. Mosley (later “TC” in the enormously popular “Magnum P.I.”). Parts of the movie were filmed in Atlanta and much of the boxing footage is from actual fights. Another fun fact: An original song written for the movie and sung by George Benson, “The Greatest Love of All,” was later a huge hit for Whitney Houston.

Related: Five of Muhammad Ali’s greatest moments on screen


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