Newsflash from the Past: Muhammad Ali prevents a suicide in 1981

Muhammad Ali Saves

Muhammad Ali talks man down from 9th-floor perch

Copyright: The Associated Press 

LOS ANGELES – (January 20, 1981) People on the ground urged the distraught 21-year-old man to jump. But former heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali promised to help him find a job, and talked the man down from a ninth-floor fire escape.

The man, whose name was not disclosed, climbed onto a fire escape at the high-rise office building about 2 p.m. Monday.

Police officers, a psychologist and a police chaplain tried unsuccessfully to talk to him, said Sgt. Bruce Hagerty, who said the man was distraught.

The man, who was too young to have served in Vietnam, “was talking Army jargon….He said the Viet Cong were out there,” Hagerty said.

Meanwhile, an aide to the three-time world boxing champ offered Ali’s services to the police. Ali apparently was conducting business across the street at the time, but officers at first weren’t thrilled at the thought of “people getting in crisis situations and then asking for movie stars,” Hagerty said.

Then, however, the man “said he was definitely going to jump and he came close to jumping. We decided to give Muhammad a chance at talking to the man” said Hagerty.

“It’s really you!” the man exclaimed when Ali arrived. The boxer talked to the man first from a ninth-floor window and then from a partially enclosed stairwell.

“The police thought he had a gun,” Ali said later. “Nobody would go near him. I told him I’m coming out and don’t shoot me. He said: ‘I won’t shoot you. I don’t even have a gun.’ I took his word and walked on out.”

Ali told the man: “You’re my brother. I love you and I wouldn’t lie to you. You got to listen. I want you to come home with me, meet some friends of mine.”

Muhammad Ali hero
Photographer: Paul Chinn / LAPL 00148607.

After half an hour, Ali put his around the shoulders of the man and led him back to safety. 

The two emerged from the building and drove away in Ali’s car to a police station. Ali accompanied the man to a Veterans Administration Hospital, where police said the man would undergo a 72-hour mental examination.

“He was just depressed,” Ali said later. “He couldn’t find work. His father and mother don’t like him. He don’t get along with his family.”

“I hate to see anybody take his life,” a tired Ali said from his nearby Hancock Park home. “I’m going to put him in college and find him a job. I promised to help him with his life if he didn’t jump.”

“Mr. Ali was not here as a publicity thing,” Hagerty said. “He really wanted to help the man.”




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