Sports photographers had plenty of chances to take photos of Muhammad Ali as a fighter. But Charles Adams became the photographer who took photos of Ali as a man.
Adams, who now lives in Carson City, made it his mission to show what kind of man Ali was through his photos of him when he photographed Ali for about five years in the 1980s after “The Greatest” retired from boxing.
Throughout much of his life, Adams has been the photographer to the stars. Name a celebrity or president over the last 45 years and chances are Adams took that person’s photo. And obviously among his most cherished photos are the ones he took of Ali, who died at the age of 74 Friday.
“I wanted people to get to know the Ali that I knew,” Adams said.
Adams’ most famous photo of Ali is arguably one in which he took of Ali standing in front of a wall in deep thought. The photo is consider one of the most definitive pictures of Ali — if not the most definitive photo of Ali — and definitely defined him, Adams said. “He was a thoughtful and generous person,” Adams said.
There’s another photo in which a young boy comes up to Ali wanting to have his picture taken with him. Ali picked up the boy and kissed him on the cheek and Adams nailed the shot.
“It’s one of my favorite shots,” Adams said. “Everywhere we went people brought their kids and said ‘can we have a shot with our kids and him.’ He was always accommodating.”
“That’s not something you’re used to seeing,” said Adams about celebrities being so available.
Adams said the two celebrities he enjoyed photographing the most were “M.A.” and “M.B.,” referring to Ali and Marlon Brando. He said other celebrities he took photos of, he saw them as celebrities, but about Ali and Brando, Adams said, “I saw them as the individuals they were.”
Ali obviously loved children and that was demonstrated in another photo Adams took in which Ali posed with children for a poster used for a charity that granted children’s wishes in which Ali supported.
Adams came to know Ali through his next door neighbor, Ahad Ali, while he was living in Los Angeles. Ahad Ali had a colorful past himself as he was a prisoner at Attica Prison during the riots at Attica in 1971 which led to more than 40 deaths. Muhammad Ali recited a famous poem about the Attica riots.
Muhammad Ali also lived in Los Angeles at the time and Ahad Ali basically served as his unofficial manager. “Can you come and take some pictures” of Muhammad Ali, Ahad Ali asked Adams and that began Adams’ tenure of photographing Muhammad.
Adams also had the honor of Barack Obama visiting his home in Carson City when he began campaigning for president in 2007. When Adams found out how much Obama looked up to Ali, he gave Obama a copy of that definitive photo of Ali standing against the wall.
When he went to Turkey in 2000, Adams also remembered the people there recognized him as an American and the first thing they asked would be what is Muhammad Ali like.
Ali died of Parkinson’s Disease and Adams said the disease became more noticeable toward the end of his time photographing Ali in the late 1980s. Whenever he was at a function, Ali would still be able to do “everything normally,” but when he returned home, Ali was “extremely exhausted,” Adams said.
And Adams said the disease weighed on Ali. Adams talked about how Ali was always used to being “full of vim and vigor every morning” before the Parkinson’s took effect. “It’s sad,” Adams said. “It’s saddens me he had to leave us.”
But the Parkinson’s didn’t stop Ali from continuing his fight. “Ali was charismatic,” Adams said. “He gave of himself and his time.” Adams said Ali talked about “what I did in the fight game,” he had to continue “my fight to do good.”
“I would always do that as long as I lived,” commented Adams on what Ali said about his commitment to fight to do good. “And he did,” Adams said.