“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee…”
He had perhaps the most recognizable face in the entire world. In his prime, he was blessed with unparalleled athletic prowess, legendary courage, and a personality and charisma so vibrant it was almost a separate living entity. He brought a heretofore unheard of style and grace to the brutal sport of boxing. When confronted with these realities in 1977, the National Broadcasting Company had really only one choice
“Put this man in a cartoon!”
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., Muhammad Ali changed his name after converting to Islam in 1964. By that time, he was the heavyweight champion of the world, winning the title from Sonny Liston. After a few years of turmoil outside the ringbrought on when Ali declared himself a conscientious objector and refused to fight in Vietnamthe champ won back his title belt by knocking out George Foreman in 1974’s “Rumble in the Jungle,” fought in Zaire. Ali held the title for the next four years, defending it ten times. In the midst of that reign, in 1977, NBC premiered I Am the Greatest: The Adventures of Muhammad Ali.
Ali lent his vocal talents to the series, which featured him as a modern day Robin Hood, fighting for the underpriveleged and solving the occasional mystery. He was accompanied by his niece Nicky and his nephew Damon, as well asin what may have been a cartoon firsthis real-life public relations man, Frank Bannister (who also provided his own voice).
Somehow, the larger-than-life Ali didn’t translate well to animated form in the minds of most viewers. The show bounced around to several timeslots, and was cancelled after only one season.
USA / NBC – Farmhouse Films – Fred Calvert Productions / x20 minute episodes / Broadcast 10 September 1977 – 2 September 1978
Muhammad Ali as Himself
Frank Bannister as Himself
Patrice Carmichael as Nicky
Casey Carmichael as Damon