Montanan Remembers Talking With Muhammad Ali
The Muhammad Ali Memorial Service was broadcast live on TV on Friday and one Montanan had a special connection to the late legend. Retired Ambassador Mark Johnson of the Montana World Affairs Council spoke to Ali during the Iran Hostage Crisis and shared it with KGVO for the first time.
"It was probably late '79, or early '80; we were in the midst of the negotiations which were not going well at that point," Johnson said. "I was working the night shift. I was the officer in charge at the Iran working group. And sometimes you'd get family members of some of the hostages who would call in. One night, I guess it was about 3 a.m., I got a call. It was a gentleman. When he started speaking, I had a tough time understanding him at first. The more he spoke, I realized, I was talking to Muhammad Ali!"
This was no ordinary phone call for Johnson, as Ali had a plan in mind to address the hostage situation.
"He wanted to go to Tehran and see if he could bring about the release of the hostages. He went on some length about how he wanted to do it. The standard position was we don't advise Americans to go to Iran at this time," Johnson said. "We had no way to protect them. What I didn't say, but what I really meant was, we had 52 hostages and I don't think we wanted to get another one."
Despite Ali's heavy-weight champion title, Johnson said he’s never spoken to a more respectful individual who was genuinely concerned in wanting to help the crisis overseas.
"The truth is, he couldn't have been more respectful, and interested, engaged, and above all, sincere in wanting to go. he took on-board what I said and he thanked me for my views. I got his private phone number! I thought was kind of neat," Johnson said. "I don't have his number anymore, but the point of all this is that this guy is really quite sincere in wanting to do the right thing I guess I would say."
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