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Ali planned his funeral in exacting detail

Associated Press Associated Press 7/06/2016 By Bruce Schreiner and Claire Galofaro

Muhammad Ali and his innermost circle started a document years ago that grew so thick they began calling it "The Book".

Its contents will soon be revealed.

In the pages, the boxing great planned in exacting detail how he wished to say goodbye to the world.

"The message that we'll be sending out is not our message - this was really designed by The Champ himself," said Timothy Gianotti, an Islamic studies scholar who for years helped to plan the services.

"The love and the reverence and the inclusivity that we're going to experience over the coming days is really a reflection of his message to the people of planet earth."

The 74-year-old three-time heavyweight champion wanted the memorial service in an arena. He wanted multiple religions to have a voice while honouring the traditions of his Muslim faith. And he wanted ordinary fans to attend, not just VIPs.

He was never downcast when talking about his death, said Bob Gunnell, an Ali family spokesman. He recalled Ali's own words during meetings planning the funeral: "It's OK. We're here to do the job the way I want it. It's fine."

The final revisions were made days before Ali died on Friday at an Arizona hospital, his family by his side.

For years, the plan was to have Ali's body lie in repose at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Gunnell said. That tribute was dropped at the last minute because his wife, Lonnie, worried it would cause the centre to be shut down and knew people would want to gather there in grief.

In its place, a kilometres-long procession was added that will carry Ali's body across his beloved hometown. It will drive past the museum built in his honour, along the boulevard named after him and through the neighbourhood where he grew up.

Ali's memorial service on Friday looms as one of the most historic events in Louisville's history. Former presidents, heads of nations from around the globe, movie stars and sports greats will descend upon the city to pay final respects to The Louisville Lip.

Former president Bill Clinton, a longtime friend, will deliver the eulogy at the funeral at the KFC Yum! Center, where the 15,000 seats are likely to be filled.

Others speakers will include representatives of multiple faiths, including Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and Mormonism.

Some are lifelong friends. Others Ali simply admired, such as Rabbi Michael Lerner.

He and the other faith leaders will be followed by Ali's wife, daughter Maryum Ali, actor Billy Crystal and sportscaster Bryant Gumbel.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and King Abdullah II of Jordan had been scheduled to speak, but lost their speaking spots because two other speakers will be added later, Gunnell said.

"It's not about who they are, it's about the fact that we just don't have room on the program for them," Gunnell said, adding that their representatives were "gracious and understood" when informed.

Actor Will Smith, who portrayed the boxer in the movie Ali, and former world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis are among eight pallbearers for Ali's memorial service this week in Louisville.

Also serving are Jerry Ellis, brother of Jimmy Ellis, who was Ali's former sparring partner and former world heavyweight champion; and several of Ali's relatives and a friend from Louisville.

The day before his star-studded funeral, members of Ali's Islamic faith will get their chance to say a traditional goodbye. A Jenazah, a traditional Muslim funeral, will be held at Freedom Hall at noon on Thursday, Gunnell said. It will be open to all.

The inner circle that helped the Alis with funeral preparations included his lawyer and a business associate, Gunnell said. The group presented The Book - about 5 centimetres thick with funeral details - to Ali in 2010, the family spokesman said.

"Muhammad, over the course of about a week, went through the entire plan and signed it and certified it and approved it," Gunnell said.

Ali's burial will be in Cave Hill Cemetery, the final resting place for many of the city's most prominent residents.

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