While Liam Neeson may well have ‘a very particular set of skills’, they still paled next to those of the legendary Muhammad Ali, who died on Friday at the age of 74.
But the veteran Irish screen star – and avid boxing fan – got to meet Ali on two occasions, and has called him a 'giant of humanity’.
Speaking in an interview with Irish Central, Neeson recounted the meetings.
“He was my hero from when I was a young amateur boxer, and schoolboy, back in Ireland. 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,” he said.
“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.
“I got to meet him before he had his last fight in 1981. Not knowing what to say and with my knees shaking, I said ‘Muhammad, I love you.’ He gave me a hug and then signed an autograph for my father.”
But it would not be the only time he would meet the legend.
“I met him again in 2011. He was unable to speak with his advanced Parkinson’s. I put my hand over his and whispered ‘I love you.’ His wife said to me, ‘He knows who you are,’” he added.
“He was a giant of humanity. As a people, we are all in bereavement.”
Ali died in hospital in Arizona, where he was being treated for respiratory issues.
Image credit: Jim Higgins/The American Ireland Fund