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Monday, March 14, 2011

The 1968 Esquire Magazine Cover: The Passion of Muhammad Ali

Shot by George Lois.

" To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? "

- William Shakespeare - To be, or not to be (from Hamlet 3/1)

The idea for this shoot came about when Ali refused to join the US Army’s fight in the Vietnam War because of his recent conversion to the Nation of Islam. This cover shot is one of the most memorable in magazine history; so iconic in fact that I'm having it put to canvas as art for my apartment. The image shows the former heavyweight champion with six arrows in him, which were supposed to kill him.

The direction for this shoot was inspired by the story of St. Sebastian. He was martyred after he converted to Christianity. Legend has it that St. Sebastian was tied to a stake and shot at with six arrows. He survived and was taken to safety, and nursed to health. After this near death experinece, he was to help a blind girl regain her sight by converting her to Christianity. When she could see, he cried out to the Lord and was heard. He was then clubbed to death.

In similar fashion Ali was punished for his beliefs. All the respect he had earned over the course of his career was rendered null and void. He was called a traitor to his country, a draft dodger and was stripped of his heavyweight crown and passport. He is a reminder to me of what the price for having principles is, and though I was born in 1979 without ever having seen him fight outside of highlight reels, he remains an iconic figure to me for his unyielding stance.

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