This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Muhammad Ali had many friends from all sides of the political spectrum. They included Ronald Reagan, Ted Kennedy, Thurgood Marshall.
Add to that list Orrin Hatch.
Ali's widow, Lonnie, has even asked the Utah senator to speak at the boxing legend's funeral.
"I told her I would if I can make it," Hatch said. "In fact, I really have to. I've got to be there."
Hatch, according to a 1988 article in Insight Magazine, was Ali's favorite politician.
The article quoted Ali as having good friends in both political parties. "His favorite," the article noted, "is the deeply conservative Hatch." Ali told the reporter: "I like Orrin. He's a nice fella. He's a capable man and he's an honest man. And he fights for what he believes in."
He further told the magazine that he had first been impressed with Hatch when he listened to him during the Iran-Contra and Robert Bork hearings.
"So I went up to Washington and met him in his office, and he was such a gentleman. He was so polite and courteous. And I could tell he wasn't patronizing me like some people do."
Ali came to Utah to campaign for Hatch in his re-election bid of 1988. He also supported a Hatch-sponsored group, which has raised $12 million for Utah charities, the GOP senator said.
"He came to a fundraising golf tournament for me in Heber City, even though he didn't golf," Hatch said. "He wanted to drive the golf cart, then promptly drove it off the path and crashed it. We had a good laugh over that."
According to the Hatch biography, "Leading the Charge," by Lee Roderick, the two bonded over legislative issues important to Ali that Hatch supported particularly the 1988 Fair Housing Amendments Act, which Hatch worked on with then-Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.
Roderick wrote that Ali paid an unannounced visit to Hatch's office in 1988 to thank the Utah Republican for helping one of Ali's friends get confirmed to a federal position.
The Ali ties helped Hatch in more ways than just fundraising.
"Local radio host [Tom Barberi] used to beat me up all the time," Hatch said. "He just hated me."
But when Ali came to Utah for a Hatch fundraiser, Barberi called the senator with a great idea: The radio personality wanted to get Ali together with Utah's former middleweight champion, Gene Fullmer, for a chat between the two for Barberi's show.
Hatch made it happen, and he and Barberi were friends ever since, the senator remembers.
Roderick's book also tells how Hatch had seen a pair of Ali's Everlast boxing gloves displayed in Kennedy's outer office. Hatch told the champ that he wanted some gloves, too.
So one day Ali showed up at Hatch's office carrying a display in a glass box, which included the article from Insight Magazine and one of Ali's world title belt buckles.
The framed display was inscribed: "To my dear friend Orrin Hatch, the man who should be president of the United States. With the highest respect and the deepest affection From one champion to another. Love, Muhammad Ali. August 1, 1988."