Will Smith, who earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Muhammad Ali in director Michael Mann‘s 2001 biopic, recalled the legacy of the boxing legend last December just months before his death on Friday at age 74.
“When we think about the legacy of Muhammad Ali, what he did in the ring is not what we think about,” the actor said at a ceremony for Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year award on December 16, 2015.
“What I learned about the word ‘legacy’ is that it extends far beyond our professional accomplishments, it extends far beyond accolades,” Smith said.
“Muhammad Ali is a champion for civil rights, he’s a champion in the fight against injustice, he’s a champion for utilizing whatever tools he has to make the world a better place,” he added.
“I have a very unique connection with the champ,” he noted. “We all know the stats, we know the records inside the ring. There’s no doubt that he was a great boxer, he was the greatest of all time.”
The actor noted the lengths to which he went for his memorable onscreen performance for than a decade ago. “For nearly two years, I worked to transform myself into the man who changed his name from Cassius Clay into Muhammad Ali and shook up the world,” he said.
“I got to wear Muhammad Ali’s greatness. I got to study and feel and embody the soul of the man, from the foundations of Islam and the strength of his Muslim faith in his life to the beautiful wake he always leaves in his magnificent path,” he added.
Watch the video above.