Liam Neeson told IrishCentral.com that he met Muhammad Ali twice, and told the champ that he loved him on both occasions

By Lindsay Kimble
Updated June 05, 2016 01:05 PM
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Jim Higgins/The American Ireland Fund

As a young man in Ireland, Liam Neeson had boxing dreams – and the late, great Muhammad Ali made him believe they could come true.

Paying tribute to the sports icon, Neeson opened up about looking up to Ali in an interview with IrishCentral.com.

“He was my hero from when I was a young amateur boxer, and schoolboy, back in Ireland,” Neeson, 63, said. “I’ll never forget hearing that he had beaten the unbeatable Sonny Liston. It was 1964 and it was a cold wet February in Ballymena. As I walked to school that morning, my feet didn’t seem to touch the ground: my mind was an excited blur, because somehow the world had changed with that victory.”

While Neeson’s career path clearly changed, his respect for Ali never faltered. He wrote that he met the boxer on two occasions: first in 1981, ahead of his final fight, and later in 2011.

Related Video: President Barack Obama Reacts to Muhammad Ali’s Death

“Not knowing what to say and with my knees shaking, I said ‘Muhammad, I love you,’ ” Neeson detailed of their first encounter. “He gave me a hug and then signed an autograph for my father.”

In 2011, he whispered “I love you,” once again to Ali at the 2011 American Ireland Fund New York Gala.

“I have met and known quite a few movie stars, male and female over the years. None can compare with Ali’s charisma,” Neeson said. “He was a giant of humanity. As a people, we are all in bereavement.”

Ali died at a Phoenix-area hospital on Friday, just days after being admitted for respiratory complications.

The champion boxer, who was 74, had battled Parkinson’s Disease for 32 years. His funeral will take place in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.