Muhammad Ali.jpg
Photograph: EPA/ISTVAN BAJZAT

Tens of thousands of people were gathering Friday in the hometown of Muhammad Ali for a daylong memorial to the boxing legend who died last week at the age of 74.

The streets of Louisville, Kentucky, were expected to be lined with admirers as a hearse carrying his body crosses the city, past his boyhood home, the city's Muhammad Ali Center, and the Kentucky Center for African-American Heritage.

The funeral procession, which will also go down Muhammad Ali Boulevard, ends with a private burial ceremony at Louisville's Cave Hill Cemetery before a public memorial service later in day at a sports arena.

Actor Will Smith, who played the three-time heavyweight world champion in the 2001 film Ali, will help carry the coffin, along with and former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and family members.

Former president Bill Clinton, actor Billy Crystal and broadcaster Bryant Gumbel were among those set to give eulogies at the stadium memorial service.

President Barack Obama is not attending because of his daughter's high school graduation, but Valerie Jarrett, one of his closest aides, is to read a letter on his behalf.

King Abdullah II of Jordan, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and former Ali opponents George Foreman and Larry Holmes were expected to be in attendance on Friday.

Ali died June 3 at his home in Arizona after suffering for some 30 years from Parkinson's disease, which made it difficult for him to speak in recent decades.

A Muslim prayer service in Louisville on Thursday drew thousands of mourners. Speakers talked about Ali's legacy and read portions from the Koran.

Ali joined the black separatist Nation of Islam sect in 1964 - changing his name from Cassius Clay - but later left the group to practise orthodox Islam.

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