SI Vault
 
The Best of Friends
Frank Deford
July 13, 1998
For 35 years, photographer Howard Bingham has traveled the globe, meeting princes and presidents, all thanks to his selfless devotion to a buddy who happens to be the most famous man in the world
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
July 13, 1998

The Best Of Friends

For 35 years, photographer Howard Bingham has traveled the globe, meeting princes and presidents, all thanks to his selfless devotion to a buddy who happens to be the most famous man in the world

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Muhammad, I hear Howard says he doesn't need you anymore. "You tell him he's full of s—-."

Well, he's won all these awards, and everybody knows him, and people are writing stories about him, and he spoke for you before 70,000 people.

"Wasn't long ago, he couldn't speak at all."

It is obvious: Ali is very proud of Bingham. "Their relationship is transcendental, almost metaphysical," Jackson says. "But the evolution of these two men's lives is really a remarkable story in itself. Now it's Howard moving into the sun, and Ali can't be understood so well, but there is Howard, his great friend, who couldn't speak well, able to speak for him."

The misconception people had was that Bingham was just Ali's friend. But it's never been only that way. What everybody missed was that Ali was Bingham's friend. It cuts both ways, friendship. For all the loudmouth stuff, all the doggerel, all the braggadocio, Muhammad Ali needed to be a friend as much as he needed to have one. A lot of the time it was just the two of them, quiet and at peace, driving along, hanging out, as often as not staying at some out-of-the-way place in a black area. Just a couple of guys—one of whom, coincidentally, was the most familiar face on the planet, and the other of whom might well have been the nicest person.

"Hey, Bill."

"Hey, Bill."

"You see," says Bernie Yuman, "that's the sign of the most unqualified faith and love and trust. Bill. Simply calling each other Bill. It means, maybe you're a big-deal Muhammad Ali to the world, but that doesn't mean anything to me. To me, you're just Bill. And Howard became Bill too, because that was Muhammad saying, O.K., we're on even ground, so you're Bill too. And names don't mean anything, do they?"

Only love matters to friends. If you have a friend you truly love, whether you're Howard or Muhammad, well, then you can be a friend to the world.

Cluck cluck.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14