Michael Parkinson brands US TV legend a ‘cheeky b*****d’ over behaviour in Ali interview

Michael Parkinson in tears as he rewatches interview

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Sir Michael Parkinson, 86, had a glittering career in the UK as a successful talk show host, however, across the pond he encountered difficulty when he was teamed up with US TV legend, Dick Cavett, 84, to interview Muhammad Ali in 1974. The ITV star felt “humiliated” by Cavett during the sit down chat, as the American would not let him get a word in and afterwards hoped to confront him about his behaviour.

Parkinson has now admitted in a new interview: “I was looking forward to having a word in his ear but at the end of the show he did a backflip over the settee, went to the back of the set, went to the car and drove off.”

The father-of-three didn’t hear from Cavett for another three years when he suddenly received a phone call. 

“He said, ‘Hi Mike, do you know Larry Olivier? Do you think you could give me an introduction?’”

“I wanted to say, ‘F*** off.’ But I didn’t. I just said, ‘I don’t know him that well. I thought, ‘You cheeky b*****d!’ I mean, he knew how badly he’d treated me,” he added to Radio Times.

Cavett was known for hosting The Tonight Show in the US and his own eponymous programme.

Parkinson interviewed Ali four times during his career, the first interview was in 1971, six months after his defeat by Joe Frazier in The Fight of the Century. 

The media built it up as if it was a boxing match – and while the first Frazier fight proved that Ali’s three-and-a-half-year ban from the ring had diminished him as a boxer, his charisma had not been dimmed.

Parkinson previously said: “There was huge public interest before that first interview, and he didn’t let us down. When you first met him, you couldn’t believe it. 

“He was such a big, graceful man, so good-looking and very imperious as if to say, ‘You won’t be meeting many people like me in your life.’ He was right, nobody came close.

“I’d interviewed people I’d admired since childhood, like Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly and all the glorious Hollywood women I’d fallen in love with. But Ali was real and tangible and there was a sense of wonder about meeting him,” he wrote in his BBC tribute to the boxer.

The second time Parkinson interviewed Ali was with Cavett for a joint venture with an American production company, only a few days before his second fight with Frazier.

The latter was also in attendance.

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“Ali was horrible to Joe Frazier. Frazier was charming, a really nice man, he just didn’t have what Ali had. 

“He wasn’t articulate, so Ali was an awful bully towards him. Frazier was also brought up in abject poverty and represented all that Ali was supposedly fighting for. Yet Ali called him an ‘Uncle Tom’,” said the UK TV veteran

Parkinson’s fourth and final interview with Ali, in 1981, was a more reflective affair. 

Two months earlier, the shell of Ali had been drummed into submission by his former sparring partner Larry Holmes, who wept after his hollow victory.

“That interview was autumnal. He was not well, his voice was slurred and I felt so sad, because I knew I’d never see him again. We all knew what was going to happen, it was like watching a great tower being demolished in slow-motion,” stated Parkinson

When Ali was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Century in 1999, Parkinson was asked to present the award. 

He declined, feeling “unable to encounter at close quarters that once glorious man now wrecked by a terrible illness”.

Parkinson shared to BBC when Ali died back in 2016: “I’m so proud of those interviews. Parts of them are rough and ready but we got some things right and you come away with the impression of a remarkable man.

“I didn’t like him to start with, but then I got to understand him better. I wasn’t angry [after the third interview in 1974]. I understood that he just meant things for the moment. I liked the fact he had balls and didn’t care who he offended.”

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