That headline is no joke.
In 1969, during a period in which the iconic three-time heavyweight boxing champion of the world had been stripped of his title and banned from fighting owing to his refusal to respond to his Vietnam War draft notice, Ali starred on Broadway in the musical Buck White. Billed by his birth name, Cassius Clay, he played a militant black lecturer who addresses a meeting organized by a black political group in Oscar Brown Jr.'s musical adaptation of Joseph Dolan Tuotti's Off-Broadway play Big Time Buck White.
Ali's Playbill bio stated, “He is now appealing his five-year prison conviction and $10,000 fine for refusing to enter the armed services on religious grounds. The Big Time Buck White Role that he has accepted is much like the life he lives off stage in reality.”
Though not known as a singer, Ali is listed as singing virtually every song in the score, including such titles as “We Came in Chains,” Mighty Whitey” and “Get Down.”
The supporting cast included Ted Ross and Don Sutherland. The show opened December 2, 1969 at the George Abbott Theatre and New York Times critic Clive Barnes wrote that the master of ring footwork “sings with a pleasant, slightly impersonal voice, acts without embarrassment and moves with innate dignity.” The show ran seven performances.
Ali’s conviction of draft dodging was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court and he won back his boxing title.
However, he never returned to the Broadway stage.
Ali died June 2 in Phoenix, AZ of a respiratory ailment that had compounded his longstanding Parkinson’s disease.