Muhammad Ali leaves behind a personal legacy that includes four marriages, nine acknowledged children, skirmishes with bankruptcy and the complications of 30 years of declining health. He also leaves an opportunity for his beneficiaries to make millions.
His fourth wife, Lonnie Ali, is a childhood friend he married in 1986. She is understood to be the executor of his estate. Reports have pointed to friction between her, family members and Ali’s children from previous relationships.
In past interviews the former marketing executive has spoken of the state of Ali’s finances prior to their relationship.
“I was somewhat stunned,” she told USA Today in 2010. “I thought he should have been better off.” But, she added, “given the nature of who he was – and the people he was taking care of – it was understandable.”
“Muhammad is not a businessperson. Muhammad did what he wanted to do. That is the nature of the man; that is how he got to be who he is. Fortunately, as he got older, a little bit smarter and wiser, he has been more prudent and frugal.”
Ali earned big purses in his boxing career – $5m for his win over George Foreman in the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” in 1974, a reported $8m for his 1980 defeat by Larry Holmes in Las Vegas – but after his retirement he relied on endorsements and image licensing deals that came through his company, Goat LLC, an acronym for “greatest of all time”.
In 2006, Ali sold a controlling 80% share of Goat to CKX, a company controlled by concert promoter Robert Sillerman, for a reported $50m. At the time, the Ali brand was said to be earning $7m a year through deals with companies like Adidas.
In 2011 CKX was sold to Leon D Black, the billionaire founder of private equity firm Apollo Global Management, for $512m, and renamed Core.
In 2013, Ali’s image rights were sold again in a deal which according to a source with knowledge of the transaction saw the family make around $2m and retain their 20% stake. The rights are now owned by Authentic Brands Group (ABG), a New York firm that also looks after image rights for, among others, Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson.
ABG has struck licensing deals with brands including New Era Cap, H&M and Dolce & Gabbana. It recently sold rights to Under Armor, for an Ali-inspired clothing line, and Supreme, a highly in-demand skateboarding clothes line, in conjunction with the Andy Warhol Foundation.
How income realised to the Ali estate will be distributed within the family remains unclear.
In 2014, the boxer’s only natural son, Muhammad Ali Jr, 43, was reported to be living in poverty in Chicago. He was said to have fallen out with Lonnie Ali over a pair of his father’s gloves that he sought to sell.
Such disputes appear to have been put to one side this weekend. All four children from Ali’s second marriage, to Khalilah Camacho-Ali, were said to be with him in Scottsdale, Arizona, when he died.
Ali married Camacho-Ali, then 17-year-old Belinda Boyd, in 1967. She had four children: daughters Maryum, Jamilah and Rasheda, and Muhammad Ali Jr. She would later claim she had been her husband’s “mouthpiece”, helping him craft his message of resistance.
“A lot of people don’t realize most of that stuff was my mouth running off,” she said during a panel at the Sundance film festival in 2014. “It wasn’t him.” Ali was a good husband “most of the time”, she said.
The marriage failed, she explained in 1976, because of Ali’s perpetually roving eye.
“I knew that this was going to happen before I married him,” she said.
Ali met Veronica Porsche, a former beauty queen, at Salt Lake City airport in 1974. He invited her to Zaire, where he would be training for his fight with George Foreman. Their marriage ended in 1986, after producing daughters Hana and Laila. Laila became a professional boxer, against her father’s wishes.
Finally, Ali married Yolanda Williams – Lonnie. They adopted one son, Asaad Amin.
Ali had two other daughters, Miya and Khaliah, from relationships outside his marriages. His first marriage, to cocktail waitress Sonji Roi, lasted barely a year. She later claimed he tried to coerce her into adopting Muslim dress and customs.
As many estates have found, most notably that of Michael Jackson, which has produced more than a billion dollars since his death, posthumous earnings can be substantial.
Earlier this year, ABG organised “I AM THE GREATEST”, an exhibition showcasing the boxer’s life at the O2 arena in London. At the time, Lonnie Ali said she and her husband were excited to “connect Muhammad with a whole new generation of fans”. The exhibition runs through August.