Muhammad Ali inspired countless people throughout his life, including many other public figures excelling in their own fields. This includes Grammy-winning singer Mariah Carey.
Mariah Carey looked up to Muhammad Ali for decades
Carey reflected her relationship with the heavyweight champion in her 2020 memoir The Meaning of Mariah Carey.
“I had admired Mr. Ali immensely since childhood,” she gushed. “He was one of the few people my entire disjoined family came together on. If he was on TV, we would all gather around; all of us agreed Muhammad Ali was undeniably the Greatest.”
“He was a big presence to me, like Michael-Jackson-status big,” she added.
Mariah Carey wanted to channel Marilyn Monroe singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to John F. Kennedy
In 2002, CBS produced a television special celebrating Ali’s 60th birthday. Carey was given the opportunity to perform in front of The Champ.
“I was asked to close the show with the ‘Happy Birthday’ song,” she recalled. “Inspired by the Marilyn moment when she famously sang to President Kennedy, I did a little rearrangement of the classic and sang soft and breathy at the top.”
“Of course I was honored to have the opportunity,” she went on. “However, I d not realize my singing to an icon, inspired by another icon, might have been a bit improper. You see, I was dressed in a simple icy-pink-silk short slip dress, and I did a few kitschy winks and shimmies during my performance. I was thinking, of course, ‘Everyone is in on the reference.’”
“What I didn’t take into consideration was that Mr. Ali was Muslim, as were his wife and daughters. I also didn’t know, at the time, that Muslim women dress and act modestly,” she admitted. “As part of the performance, I was to walk down the stairs and sing right in front of him. I must have appeared to literally be in my underwear to him and his wife.”
Muhammad Ali whispered to Mariah Carey after the performance
Carey revealed that Ali addressed her about her performance at the end of the night.
“At the end of my song, Will Smith was to stand on his other side, and he and I would help Mr. Ali walk up to the stage for a finale,” she recounted. “All the presenters and performers were gathered, and there was a huge confetti drop, and I was on the arm of one of my absolute heroes.”
“In all the festive mayhem, he leaned over and whispered in my ear, ‘You’re dangerous,’” she continued. “Mind you, he wasn’t talking very much at that point, but I heard him loud and clear. We both had a private laugh about it.”
It was a small statement, but Carey treasures it to this day. “The man — the people’s champion, who knocked out some of the toughest men in the world and knocked down some of the toughest racial barriers — used his precious breath to joke with me that I was dangerous,” she said proudly. “After that experience, proclaiming a moment ‘legendary’ elevated it to a whole new weight class.”
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