Paul McCartney, who first met Muhammad Ali alongside the Beatles in February 1964, penned a tribute to the legendary boxer who died Friday at the age of 74. “Dear Muhammad Ali. I loved that man,” the bassist wrote on his site.
“He was great from the first day we met him in Miami, and on the numerous occasions when I ran into him over the years,” McCartney wrote. “Besides being the greatest boxer, he was a beautiful, gentle man with a great sense of humour who would often pull a pack of cards out of his pocket, no matter how posh the occasion, and do a card trick for you.”
“The world has lost a truly great man,” McCartney added of Ali.
McCartney’s tribute also included the iconic photo of Ali mockingly jabbing the Beatles. On February 18th, 1964, at the onset of Beatlemania, the Fab Four met with Ali in Miami, where the Beatles were preparing for their second Ed Sullivan Show appearance.
Photographer Harry Benson, who shot many of the iconic photos from the Miami Beach session, orchestrated the meeting, which took place a week before Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, defeated Sonny Liston at a title fight in Miami to become world champion for the first time. (The Beatles initially wanted to meet Liston, but since the then-champ had no interest in shaking hands with some British rock group, they settled for a photo op with Ali.)
“Obviously we were having an effect, because all these people were clamoring to meet us – like Muhammad Ali, for instance,” George Harrison said in the Beatles Anthology. “We were taken to meet him on that first trip. It was a big publicity thing. It was all part of being a Beatle, really – just getting lugged around and thrust into rooms full of press men taking pictures and asking questions. Muhammad Ali was quite cute.”
Ringo Starr also passed along his condolences to Ali’s family after the boxer’s death, tweeting Friday night, “God bless Muhammad Ali peace and love to all his family.”