The Greatest Man Alive Once Saved A Suicidal Man

by Morgan Brinlee

On the morning after his death, headline after headline has touted the reasons why three-time world heavyweight champion boxer Muhammad Ali was a hero. His activism, his courage, his confidence, his steadfast beliefs, and remarkable charm all contribute to the legacy of "The Greatest," but it was Ali's character, his constant kindness, and his respect for his fellow man that truly made him heroic. The boxing champion, who died Friday at the age of 74 after a battle with Parkinson's disease, showed the world exactly what a hero Muhammad Ali was in 1981 when he saved a suicidal man who was threatening to jump from a Los Angeles building.

The day Ali saved a distraught man threatening to jump from the ninth floor of a Los Angeles building was a story that was largely forgotten for many years. On Jan. 19, 1981, police had so far been unsuccessful in negotiating with a suicidal man about to jump from a building. That news spurred the boxer (clad in a suit and tie) to rush to the scene from his home nearby. Ali volunteered to talk to the man and ultimately saved his life.

"I'm your brother, I want to help you," a news report on the incident quoted Ali saying to the man while standing at an adjacent window.

News reports from the time claim the man had yelled, "I'm no good! I'm going to jump. The Viet Cong are coming at me!" Police, a psychologist, and a minister had previously had no success in talking the man down from the ledge. Ali was determined to do what he could to help, however, and after a little convincing managed to persuade the man to open the door to the fire escape he was standing on so the boxer could speak with him face-to-face.

It was a tense time for onlookers waiting down below, according to the CBS News report on the incident. But within 20 minutes, the world champion boxer managed to do what police had not: bring the man to safety. Pictures from the time show the man climbed down from the ledge and into Ali's arms.

But Ali's kindness toward the suicidal man didn't stop when he was brought down from the ledge. Ali reportedly promised to visit the man in the veteran's hospital he was taken to for psychiatric treatment following the incident. It was an extraordinary act from an extraordinary man.