Muhammad Ali’s body arrives hometown as funeral rites begin

Muhammad Ali’s body has arrived in his hometown of Louisville where he’ll be laid to rest as the city grieves the loss of its favourite son.

An airplane carrying the legend’s arrived from Arizona, where he died, on Sunday afternoon ahead of a public funeral procession and service expected to draw huge crowds in honour of ‘The Greatest’ on Friday.

The private plane landed at Louisville International Airport around 4.30pm.

Family spokesman, Bob Gunnell, says Ali was accompanied by his wife, Lonnie, and other family members and friends. He says the body was taken to a local funeral home.

Police reportedly escorted the casket, which was wrapped in a black cloth bearing Arabic scripture in gold on it, from the airport to the funeral home.

The three-time heavyweight boxing champion and outspoken civil rights activist died on Friday night at age 74 after health problems complicated by a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

“Our hearts are literally hurting. But we are happy daddy is free now,” one of Ali’s nine children, daughter Hana, wrote on Twitter.

The official cause of Ali’s death was septic shock due to unspecified natural causes.

Gunnell said Ali had sought medical attention for a cough, but his condition rapidly deteriorated. He was admitted to a hospital in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale, where he had lived for several years with his wife Lonnie.

Ali’s family ultimately removed him from life support on Friday, Gunnell said.

“We all tried to stay strong and whispered in his ear, ‘You can go now. We will be okay,’” Hana Ali wrote.

In Louisville, the late boxing legend’s life was celebrated at a memorial service at the church where their father was a long-time member on Sunday.

His younger brother Rahaman Ali took centre stage at the two-hour service at King Solomon Missionary Baptist Church, sitting in a front-row pew with his wife, Caroline.

During the service, assistant pastor Charles Elliott III asked the congregation to stand to honour Muhammad Ali. In his tribute, Elliott said “there is no great man that has done more for this city than Muhammad Ali.”

The church is not far from the little pink house in Louisville’s west end where the Ali brothers grew up. It also features a painting by Ali’s father, Cassius Clay Sr.

And it was one of several emotional remembrances Sunday as the city joined together to mourn its most celebrated son, called ‘the Louisville Lip’. Later on Sunday, interfaith services were planned at Louisville’s Islamic Center, which invited citizens to ‘join hands in unity to celebrate the life’ of Ali.

On Friday, politicians, celebrities and fans from around the globe are expected for a memorial service that Ali planned himself with the intent of making it open to all.

After a small family funeral on Thursday, Ali’s coffin will be transported Friday through the streets of Louisville, before a private burial at Cave Hill Cemetery and the public interfaith memorial service at the KFC Yum! Center.

The procession has been organized to ‘allow anyone that is there from the world to say goodbye,’ family spokesman Bob Gunnell told reporters.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said the city is ready for a massive celebration to honour its most famous son.