The Facilitator mourns the loss of his friend, Muhammad Ali

AP News
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Posted: Jun 07, 2016 3:10 AM
The Facilitator mourns the loss of his friend, Muhammad Ali

LAS VEGAS (AP) — They called him "The Facilitator" because when it came to Muhammad Ali, Gene Kilroy got things done.

For years he traveled the world with Ali, smoothing the way for the heavyweight champ and making sure he didn't have to worry about anything other than fighting. Kilroy took care of everything, from arranging sparring partners to waking Ali up at 4 a.m. to go for his morning run during training.

But even The Facilitator has his limits. And so it was that Kilroy sat drinking a chocolate milkshake Monday afternoon in a coffee shop mourning his friend.

"It's tough," Kilroy said. "Really tough. I loved Muhammad Ali."

It was Kilroy who got Ali's training camp in the Poconos built, Kilroy who helped carry Ali's mother's coffin, Kilroy who made sure Ali had the best accommodations for the Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman.

It was Kilroy sitting next to Ali on the plane as they landed in Zaire. Ali turned to Kilroy and asked him what the people of Zaire hated most.

"I told him white people. He said, 'I can't tell them George Foreman is white,'" Kilroy recalled. "Then I said, 'They don't like the Belgians, who used to rule Zaire.'"

Ali stepped out on the tarmac and yelled out: "George Foreman's a Belgian!"

The crowd erupted, chanting "Ali boma ye, Ali boma ye (Ali, kill him)."

The stories of his time with Ali have always flowed freely. They were always told with great gusto and obvious love.

He first met Ali when he was Cassius Clay, a teenager winning a boxing gold medal in the 1960 Olympics in Rome. Kilroy immediately liked the brash young fighter, who could talk a blue streak even then.

He liked him even more when he saw a panhandler ask Clay for money and he reached into his pocket to give him $3 of the $8 he had left.

"That was just the way he was," Kilroy said. "Always thinking of doing something good for someone."

Kilroy was an outsider viewed suspiciously by some of Ali's entourage when he joined the champ, while he was in exile from boxing, for what would be a 12-year run as his business manager.

He didn't stay that way long.

"He's a brother from another mother, a wonderful person," said Khalilah Ali, Ali's second wife and mother of four of his children in a 2013 interview with The Associated Press. "He's my rock, I'll stand in a fire to protect Gene. We love him like family."

In recent years, it was hard for Kilroy to see how his friend was suffering. He didn't like that Ali was still traveling for public appearances even though he couldn't speak above a whisper and was deteriorating physically.

Speaking out about it may be why he's not one of the pallbearers for Friday's funeral, though he says he doesn't know for sure.

What he does know is that Ali dealt with his physical limitations like the champion he was.

"We had some good times," he would tell Kilroy. "Don't feel sad for me."

It's hard not to feel sad now because the man he idolized is gone. A big part of his life is now missing, though Kilroy is happy his friend is no longer suffering.

"No more pain," he said. "He's at peace, and he's with God."

Kilroy will be at the funeral in Louisville, just like he was with Ali at Joe Frazier's funeral in 2011. It's one last chance to say goodbye and close out his service to a man he always regarded as The Greatest.

Kilroy, who spent much of the last three decades as a casino host, has no regrets.

"I can look in the mirror," he said, "and say I did him right."