In January of 1982, a young man perched himself on the roof of a building in Los Angeles. As he prepared to jump from the building, Muhammad Ali’s public relations manager, Howard Bingham, spotted him. Nearby, he noticed that police officers were attempting to talk the young man out of ending his life.
Bingham approached the officers – who by this point had been negotiating with the man for hours – and asked if he could call Ali for him to offer assistance. The police officers said no. Nevertheless, Bingham went back to his car and called Ali. “I told Ali there was a guy up here on a building about a mile from his house and maybe he could get through,” Bingham recollected.1
Around four minutes later, Ali rolled up to the scene in his Rolls-Royce. He had driven up the wrong side of the road with his lights flashing. By this point, a crowd had congregated around the building, many of which were urging the young man to jump. According to Sgt. Bruce Hagerty, the suicidal man was “a very distraught, mixed-up young man.”
The officers, a psychologist and a police chaplain had tried unsuccessfully to lure the man off the ledge but to no avail. Ali climbed up the nine floors and slowly approached the man. “It’s really you,” the man shouted to Ali. He sat down and started speaking to the young man.
The young man confided in Ali that he felt as though he was a “nobody.” He struggled finding a job and felt as though his mother and father didn’t love him and that he had nobody in the world who cared for him. He explained that he suffered tremendously with depression and wanted to be somebody.2
“I’m no good, I’m going to jump,” the young man said. Ali responded by telling him that he wasn’t a nobody that he loved him and if he didn’t love him, he “wouldn’t be there.” Ali told the young man that if he came down, he would help him go to school, find him a job and meet his parents and convince them that their son wasn’t a nobody.
“You’re my brother, I love you and I wouldn’t lie to you,” Ali said. “He saw me weeping and he couldn’t believe I was really doing that, that I cared that much about him,” Ali later recollected.3
After around thirty minutes, Ali put his arms around the shoulders of the young man and successfully led him off the ledge. The two men emerged from the building and drove off in Ali’s Rolls Royce. Ali drove the man to a police station and then accompanied him to a Veterans Administration Hospital where he underwent a 72-hour mental evaluation. “Every day I’m going to visit him in the hospital. I told him I’d stay close to him,” said Ali.
Los Angeles police gave Ali all of the credit for saving the life of the young man. “No doubt about it, Ali saved that man’s life,” said a police spokesman.
- Slate, 4 June, 2016 – “The Time Muhammad Ali Stopped a Man From Leaping to His Death”
- The Independent, 4 June, 2016 – “How The Greatest Stopped a Man From Killing Himself”
- VT, 17 January, 2018 – “Muhammad Ali Once Talked a Suicidal Veteran Out of Jumping from Window Ledge”