It’s not every day that a king and a president get bumped from giving speeches. But it’s happened for Muhammad Ali’s memorial service set to take place in Louisville, Kentucky, on Friday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and King Abdullah II of Jordan had been scheduled to speak at the service at the KFC Yum! Center but Ali family spokesman Bob Gunnell said Monday that two other speakers will be added to the current program, meaning there won’t be room for foreign dignitaries.
Gunnell said both their offices were “gracious and understood.” He said the names of the two additional speakers will be revealed later Monday.
The ceremony, which will be presided over by California imam and scholar Zaid Shakir, will be opened by representatives of multiple faiths, including Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Mormonism and Catholicism. They will be followed by speeches from Ali’s wife, Lonnie Ali; daughter Maryum Ali; former US president Bill Clinton; actor Billy Crystal and sportscaster Bryant Gumbel.
Gunnell did not confirm whether US President Barack Obama would attend, and the White House has given no indication of his plans.
The actor Will Smith and former boxing world champion Lennox Lewis will serve as pallbearers together with six other people.
Organizers said that the three-time world heavyweight champion helped plan the ceremony himself as a “last statement” to the world.
The charismatic Ali, a dazzling fighter and outspoken civil rights activist who became one of the 20th century’s towering figures, died last Friday at age 74 after health problems complicated by a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
The Louisville funeral will be preceded on Thursday by a family funeral and an Islamic prayer service, held in the 18,000-seat Freedom Hall that hosted Ali’s last fight in Louisville, against Willi Besmanoff in 1961.
The following day, Ali’s coffin — which arrived in the city on Sunday aboard a private plane accompanied by his wife and other relatives — will be paraded through the streets for fans from around the world to say goodbye.
“He was the people’s champ and so he wanted that memorial service to reflect that,” Gunnell said.
Islamic studies scholar Timothy Gianotti stressed that “this was really designed and intended by the Champ himself to be his last statement to the people of planet Earth.”
“The love and the reverence and inclusivity that we are going to experience over the coming days is really a reflection of his message,” he added.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.