Ali gala raising money for brain research

Dozens of celebrities from the sports, film and TV realms plan to fete boxing icon Muhammad Ali and raise money for brain research during a tribute in Las Vegas to be aired later on ABC.

LAS VEGAS — Dozens of celebrities from the sports, film and TV realms plan to fete boxing icon Muhammad Ali and raise money for brain research during a tribute in Las Vegas to be aired later on ABC.

The Saturday gala to celebrate Ali’s 70th birthday at the MGM Grand on the Las Vegas Strip will double as a fundraiser, with the money going to the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Ky. Ali turned 70 last month, and had a party honouring him in Kentucky.

One of Ali’s daughters, Rasheda Ali, said the gala is another chance for her father to use his celebrity to help others and to further causes he cares about.

“Boxing was his introduction to the world, and he took it beyond boxing. He feels boxing was there to get people to notice him,” Rasheda Ali said. “He knows that his purpose was not to be a heavyweight.”

The gala is expected to include performances and tributes from Stevie Wonder, David Beckham, Larry King, Quincy Jones and others. It will be held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, the site of numerous top prizefights over the past 20 years as Sin City established itself as the world’s capital of boxing.

Tickets start at $1,500 a seat. Attendees will dine on food specially prepared by celebrity chefs Wolfgang Puck, Tom Colicchio, Michael Mina and Scott Conant.

More expensive seats — up to $100,000 for a “ringside” table of 10 with the promise of sitting with at least one celebrity — will offer a close-up view of what Rasheda Ali says could be an unpredictable party with so many famous faces on the bill.

“You’re talking about celebrities and people who really have a huge influence on a lot of people,” she said. “People, around him, they come down to earth.”

Ali will attend, but it’s not clear whether he will speak at the event.

He’s not scheduled to walk a pre-show red carpet.

Larry Ruvo, chairman of Keep Memory Alive, the clinic’s fundraising arm, said Ali deserves every accolade he gets, as he’s become one of the five most recognizable people on the planet.

And the money raised this weekend will help fight neurological diseases, a cause that resonates with millions of people personally, as well as with Ali, Ruvo said.

“There’s almost no one that doesn’t have a relative or friend with one of these diseases,” Ruvo said.

Ali suffers from Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative brain condition that some doctors say can be brought on by punches to the head.

The clinic is working on a four-year study of the brains of fighters, in hopes of finding ways to make contact sports safer. Nearly 150 current boxers and mixed martial arts fighters have already taken their first sets of tests, a baseline MRI they already need to fight professionally in Nevada.

Ruvo said it’s clear how important the work is to Ali, who recently visited the clinic and is expected to be there again for a pre-gala reception on Friday night.

“He’s really engaged in trying to find a cure for this disease,” Ruvo said.

The gala, to air Feb. 25 on ABC and ESPN, includes two auctions with items including a three-night trip to magician David Copperfield’s 11 private islands in the Southern Bahamas, a 2013 Mercedes convertible that retails for $200,000, and the boxing gloves Ali used to defeat Floyd Patterson in 1965. A Sunday concert featuring Lenny Kravitz, Cee Lo Green and Slash will raise more funds.

Ruvo said he’s not sure whether the fundraiser will beat its record of $27 million.

“I can only hope, but I don’t know,” he said.

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