On this day in 1981, Muhammad Ali, who had been a hero to millions inside the ring, was a hero outside it.
By this point Ali was at the very tail end of his boxing career, but he was still arguably the most famous person in the world.
He lived in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, and that day, about a mile or so away in the area known as the Miracle Mile, there was a scary situation.
A 21 year old Black man was on the ninth floor fire escape of a high-rise office building, talking despondently.
Police and psychologists had been talking with him for hours, trying to get him back inside safely.
They were also trying to clear away those in the growing crowd below who were urging the man to jump.
Someone else was there, too, though: Howard Bingham, who was Ali’s public relations manager.
He told the authorities the former three time world champ lived nearby, and would they like his help?
At first they said no, but Bingham made the call anyway, and it wasn’t long before Muhammad Ali pulled up outside the building in his Rolls Royce.
So the authorities said, let’s see if he can help.
And he did.
Ali went up to the ninth floor, calling through a window to the man some news reports identified only as “Joe.”
The champ, of course, was known for his outlandish and creative interviews before (and after) his fights, but on this day he spoke directly, telling the man “You’re my brother. I love you and I wouldn’t lie to you.”
They talked for about 20 minutes before Ali coaxed the man back inside.
They came downstairs, and the champ, ignoring the crowds that were chanting his name, gave the man a ride to get help.
A police spokesman said later, “No doubt about it – Ali saved that man’s life.”
Perhaps it was because, as reporter Robert Lipsyte once described him, Muhammad Ali was “a guy who made people brave.”
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, there is help: contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/, or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.
When Muhammad Ali Met a Man on a Ledge (New York Times)
Photo: Muhammad Ali’s robe (Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture)