In the late 1970s Muhammad Ali agreed to provide support to the new nation of Bangladesh by starring in a film called Bangladesh I Love You.
In the late 1970s I headed a modest film production company in London and hit upon the idea to take Muhammad Ali to Bangladesh, then a new country which needed world recognition. After many trips to the US we got Ali to agree, but first there was a small matter to be settled in the ring.
Ali had a fight pending against Leon Spinks, which he thought would be a walkover. Not so. Spinks beat Ali on points. Ali rang me from Los Angeles and said he could not face his fans since he had been beaten. I said: “No Brother, they still love you as The Greatest. The whole of Bangladesh, from the president to the lowest peasant, is waiting for you. You must believe me.”
He, ever the joker, lowered his voice and asked: “Brother Reg, are you serious?”
I replied, “In the name of Allah, I am dead serious!”
He replied, “OK, I will come. But don’t die just yet.”
We filmed the visit of Ali, who was accompanied by his then wife, Veronica, and a posse of friends and guards. Bangladesh I Love You was cut and edited in London and distributed by Lord Grade.
Years later I wanted to make India I Love You to repeat the same formula with Ali when Indira Gandhi was the prime minister. All went well and filming was on schedule, but then international politics scuppered the film. We were in Madras (now Chennai) when a call came to my room. The voice, in a southern US accent, said: “I wanna speak to Ali.” I said: “Ali is resting in his suite. It’s hot in south India.” The voice said: “Well get to him. Tell him it’s Jimmy Carter from the White House who wants to talk to him now.”
I transferred the call to Ali’s suite and rushed to his floor. When I got there, Ali was standing to attention and saying: “Yes Mr President, I will drop everything here.”
Carter had asked Ali to fly to all the Islamic countries to request they pull out of the Moscow Olympics. An hour earlier the USSR had attacked Afghanistan. “My president has ordered me,” he told me. “I must obey him.”
Within three hours an aircraft arrived with US commandos on board. It flew off with Ali and his family. My film had perished.
Source: The Guardian