Larry King, Harrison Ford, Sharon Stone Remember Muhammad Ali at Celebrity Fight Night: ‘He Was the Best’

Muhammad Ali's Celebrity Fight Night XXIII
Jim Smeal/BEI/Shutterstock

Stars descended upon the Arizona desert on Saturday to pay special tribute to Muhammad Ali at Celebrity Fight Night, the first time in 20 years the event was held without the late boxing champion, who died in June.

“There’s such a love in this room,” his widow, Lonnie Ali, said. “Tonight especially, that love is very evident. I know Muhammad’s here.”

That outpour of love was evident from the words of Harrison Ford, who said that he and Ali were very close in age and described watching Ali through the years. “Seeing what he went through, the way he conducted himself, the hard choices that he made was inspiring to me, and I’m grateful for his wisdom,” Ford said.

The ballroom at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa in Phoenix was packed with glitterati from Hollywood to Nashville. Paul McCartney paid tribute via video with a little ditty he wrote in honor of Ali.

The night’s entertainment was directed by 16-time Grammy-winning producer David Foster and featured country stars like Brooks & Dunn and Reba McEntire to soul and R&B heavyweights Sam Moore and Brian McKnightDennis Quaid and the Sharks took the stage to play a set, while Beach Boys co-founder Mike Love closed out the night.

A live auction yielded big-ticket prizes including a dinner at Sharon Stone’s L.A. digs with friends John Travolta and Kelly Preston, and Quaid providing the musical entertainment. Guests also bid on dinner with the night’s emcee, McEntire, at her Nashville home.

Stone said she met Ali when she was 19 while at the Miss Pennsylvania pageant. “He was very nice to me and called my dad and asked if I could be in the movie ‘The Greatest,’” she said. Her dad said declined the offer, insisting that Stone would finish school and not be in films, to which Ali quipped: “Mr. Stone, you can hide that girl under bushel or basket, but she’s going to be in movies.”

That began a series of several philanthropic enterprises between Ali and the celebrities in attendance.

“He was a very dear friend to me and obviously he meant a lot to the world and he meant a lot to me personally,” Stone remembered. Celebrity Fight Night, she said, has “become like a family” and “seeing the camaraderie and seeing the community come together is always very inspiring.”

Attending this year for the first time was former Dodgers star Kirk Gibson, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2015. Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps and broadcaster Larry King also brought additional star power to the night.

King, who had “57 years of friendship” with Ali, said he met the boxer when he went by his birth name, Cassius Clay. “He’d just won the Olympics. I interviewed him 100 times and went to Vegas with him,” King remembered. “He was the best. There was nobody in second place.”

Ali’s Fight Night has raised more than $127 million, primarily to benefit the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. According to the Institute, an estimated one million people in the United States are living with Parkinson’s disease — a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement.