Muhammad Ali’s friendship to big-time country music stars ran strong and deep Instagram/JoeDonRooney

The world was shocked to learn Muhammad Ali, arguably the greatest boxer of all time, died the evening of June 3, 2016. Ali’s reach was global and that extended deep into country music as well. From Johnny Cash to Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson to Rascal Flatts, The champ touched them all.

Ali met Cash in the late ’60s when the two shared a plane ride. At the end of the flight, Ali had written out a Sufi poem entitled “Truth” and presented it to Cash. That poem turned up as Cash’s 1970 song “What Is Truth.”

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There were more country connections as well. Kris Kristofferson befriended Ali in 1978 after his movie “A Star is Born” and the two remained close until the end. He also introduced Ali to Waylon Jennings, who forged a friendship so strong that Ali attended Shooter Jenning’s christening. Waylon even wrote a song for Ali that was never recorded, but in 2010, Waylon’s widow, Jessi Colter, and Kristofferson sang it at a private dinner for Ali’s Parkinson’s fund, bringing tears to Ali’s eyes.

All the way to today Ali has had an impact, when Rascal Flatts’ Joe Don Rooney Instagrammed a photo of he and the boys and the champ.

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“He was always, always the most unselfish superstar I’ve ever known,” Kristofferson once told CMT. “There’s nobody like him.”

Based in Chicago but often in Nashville, Ken Churilla is a contributor for Rare Country. Follow him @KenChurilla and join the conversation @RareCountry.
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