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Celebrity Fight Night Gets Huge Boost From Parsons to Help Those With Parkinson’s
By Mike Saucier
The stars were out in Phoenix on Saturday night as Valley influencers and celebrities mixed it up with Hollywood glitterati and Nashville’s finest at Celebrity Fight Night.
The ballroom at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa was where they paid a special tribute to Muhammad Ali, who died in June in Scottsdale.
Go Daddy founder and philanthropist Bob Parsons, longtime friend and supporter of Celebrity Fight Night, stunned the packed ballroom when he announced he is establishing Lonnie Ali Legacy Care Program. Parsons donated $4 million to cover a new capital campaign designed to help those diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease receive counsel and treatment in their homes.
Ali got the best care for his Parkinson’s disease, Parsons said, but always insisted that anyone who came to the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, no matter what their station in life, got the very same care.
The center, Parsons told the crowd, has a new initiative called the Legacy Care Program, “where they reach out and they help people get to the center and they find people who find out they have been diagnosed and they counsel them and even provide treatment for them in their home.”
“The cost of this program is going to be $4 million over the next three years and my wonderful wife Renee and our foundation is going to cover it,” he said to rousing applause.
Parsons said during his visits to remote parts of Africa he would show Ali’s photograph to people who had almost no access to the world beyond their villages. “But yet somehow, incredibly, they knew who the champ was,” he told the ballroom. “Their response was always the same. They would smile and beam with pride and say, ‘Ahhh, the boxer.’”
Parsons went on: “Our wonderful friend Muhammad is not sitting on the stage in his wheel chair tonight, engaged in his epic battle against Parkinson’s. But I know, and I know you know, that he’s very much still here with us. And we will always feel his wonderful, inspired presence whenever Fight Night takes place.”
“With that in mind, I’m going to speak directly to the champ like I did during those few times when I was fortunate enough to be up on the stage with him,” Parsons said. “Champ, thanks for inspiring us and giving us the example to carry on your fight, to overcome this nasty disease. We know because of your example, kindness and inspiration, we’ll beat it.”
Ali has always been the brightest star and the celebrity draw at Fight Night, which has raised more than $127 million primarily to benefit the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center. More than 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s disease – a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement.
Celebrity Fight Night’s founder and chairman Jimmy Walker presented a surprise gift to Lonnie Ali, who was joined on stage by her grandson, Jacob Wertheimer, who spoke about his grandfather’s legacy and carrying on his work in the fight against Parkinson’s disease.
Reba McEntire read a letter from Ali’s friend Billy Crystal, who could not make the event. The live auction featured a trip to the brink of space in an aircraft over Moscow, an NBA All-Star Experience including dinner with Larry Fitzgerald, Charles Barkley and Jerry Colangelo, a red carpet world premiere experience at Harrison Ford’s next film “Blade Runner 2049,” a getaway at the Caribbean estate Villa Anacaona, a golf weekend with Alice Cooper in Hawaii, and whitewater rafting with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in Chile, among others. The two highest-selling live auction items of the night were a dinner with McEntire at her private residence in Nashville and dinner with Sharon Stone and friends John Travolta and Kelly Preston.
Attending this year for the first time was former Dodgers star Kirk Gibson who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2015. Olympic gold medalist and Valley residents Michael Phelps and his wife Nicole Johnson brought added star power to the night.
Paul McCartney paid tribute via video with a song he wrote in honor of Ali. The night’s entertainment was directed by 16-time Grammy-winning producer David Foster and featured country stars Brooks & Dunn, McIntyre to soul and R&B heavyweights Sam Moore and Brian McKnight. Beach Boys co-founder Mike Love closed out the night.
All photos by Getty Images.