Old Wives' Tales
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Toxin du jour
Claim: Boxer Muhammad Ali's refusal to wear a seat belt on a plane spurred an answering quip from a stewardess.
Origins: Muhammad Ali, the colorful 1960
However, Ali is to memorable quotes what Yogi Berra is
Yet it is another quote of his to which we turn our focus, one that appears in Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes as well as in Karl Evanzz's 2002 compilation I Am the Greatest: The Best Quotations from Muhammad Ali:
Just before takeoff on an airplane flight, the stewardess reminded Ali to fasten his seat belt. "Superman don't need no seat belt," replied Ali.Did this exchange ever take place? Or is it an item of apocrypha, an oft-repeated story that is more fiction than truth, more embroidery than fabric?
"Superman don't need no airplane either," retorted the stewardess.
Various newspaper articles throughout the years have presented the anecdote in different ways. Most typically, the story is passed along as above
On the one hand, Ali was not afraid of flying and so would have been more likely than most to foreswear the wearing of seat belts when on planes. Said sportswriter Mickey Herskowitz: "We once sat next to Ali on a flight from Chicago to Houston, and he confided that he had no fear of flying because Allah would not allow him to die in a plane crash. It was not clear whether this warranty extended to his fellow passengers, but his confidence reassured us."
On the other, while it is at least believable the champ would arrogantly declare "Superman don't need no seat belt" if challenged over his wanting to remain unharnessed for the flight (he had no fear of dying in a plane crash and his ego was such that he would have thought nothing of comparing himself to Superman), it is less likely that the other party to the purported quote would have in a split second come up with the perfect squelch. Real life is very rarely as the Hollywood scriptwriters would have it.
Barbara "which is a good thing, else we'd all get eaten by dinosaurs or vaporized by Martians" Mikkelson
Last updated: 2 October 2006
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