David Clark recalls the day in 1997 that The Artist met The Greatest
DAILY CAMERA / BOULDER (June 8, 2016). It took 19 years to go viral, sparked by the deaths of two cultural icons just six weeks apart. But the photo of Muhammad Ali and Prince in a half-embrace, a tender moment captured in a less-connected era, rocketed across social media last weekend following the boxing legend’s passing.
The Greatest met The Artist — as Prince, who’d changed his name to an unpronounceable glyph, called himself at that time — on June 24, 1997, in a room at the historic Hay-Adams hotel in Washington, D.C.
It’s a moment Boulder’s David Clark will never forget.
“There was this knock at the door,” Clark recalled this week. “When I opened it, there was The Artist. He just had this look of wonderment, of astonishment, on his face. The moment he saw Muhammad was the same moment Muhammad saw him.
“Muhammad said, ‘Prince?’ And Muhammad’s daughter Hana said, ‘Daddy, his name is The Artist, and if you don’t call him The Artist, I’m going to tell him to call you Cassius Clay.'”
Clark, a Boulder native and entrepreneur who moved back to town in 2011, brokered the introduction, bringing Prince face-to-face with his childhood hero for the first time. He’d enlisted the singer to help promote Ali’s book “Healing: A Journal of Tolerance and Understanding” and his World Healing Project. a campaign to fight bigotry worldwide.
Clark’s firm, David Clark Cause, specializes in cause-related branding and staging charity events, a career that has led him to work with Nelson Mandela, Lou Reed, President Bill Clinton, The Clash’s Joe Strummer and Yusuf Islam — the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens.
For the Ali promotion, Clark decided to rustle up another celebrity to add a little more starpower to a planned MTV news conference.
“I had heard that The Artist was a big fan of Muhammad, but had never met him,” Clark said. So he reached out to Prince’s lawyer/manager, knowing it was a long shot — especially on just a couple days’ notice.
But it worked.
“My friend called me a couple of days ago and asked me,” Prince recounted at the news conference following his hotel-room introduction to Ali. “He said, ‘Muhammad wants you to…’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ I didn’t even let him finish. He could have said, ‘Mow the lawn’ and I would have been down with it.
“Muhammad is my hero. He has been since I was a child. As you can see, he’s such an inspiration to many people.”
And that wasn’t just talk on Prince’s part, Clark said. It was clear he meant it.
“I’ve dealt with celebrities, but I’ve never seen someone like Prince that was so enamored of Muhammad,” Clark said. “It was really special. To this day, it’s the most memorable introduction I’ve made.”
Like many, Clark said he was stunned by the deaths of both men this spring, and the fact that their passings came so close together.
Prince died April 21 at age 57 from an overdose of the painkiller fentanyl, while Ali, who’d suffered from Parkinson’s disease for decades, died Friday at age 74 from septic shock after being hospitalized with respiratory problems.
“They were both kind of private trailblazers,” Clark said, reflecting on the good the two men did, each in his own way. “Prince gave so much money, but he didn’t need the accolades. And Muhammad was very much the same.
“He was absolutely determined to leave the world a better place — and he did.”