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The Beatles Hated Muhammad Ali for Making Them "Look Stupid," Insider Says

The band and the boxer met in Miami 60 years ago this month.

On Feb. 18, 1964, the Beatles and Muhammad Ali crossed paths, leading to a famous photoshoot featuring the 20th century icons. But while the now-60-year-old shots snapped by Harry Benson show what looked to be a playful new friendship between the boxer and the musicians, the photographer just told Page Six that the Beatles actually hated Ali and felt disrespected by him. Benson claims that John Lennon in particular accused him of letting the heavyweight champ make them "look [expletive] stupid."

RELATED: See Ringo Starr's Granddaughter, Who's Also a Musician.

Benson introduced the Beatles to Ali on Feb. 18, 1964 when they were in Miami during their U.S. tour. At the time, Ali was preparing for his legendary bout with Sonny Liston, which would take place on Feb. 25, 1964. The Beatles, meanwhile, had recently made their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Ali and the band members were all in their early 20s.

Benson thought the Beatles meeting Ali would make for some great photos, but the musicians supposedly didn't care for the juxtaposition of their sizes or the way the champ spoke to them.

"Ali dwarfed them," Benson recalled. "Just the repartee of Ali: 'You think you're good-looking? You're not that good-looking—you're tiny, small, little men. Look at me!' They didn't like it—Lennon and Paul McCartney in particular." According to the Page Six, George Harrison once said that Ali had been "clamoring" to meet the Beatles, which Benson said wasn't true. "He couldn't care less about them," the photographer said.

Muhammad Ali and the Beatles on Feb. 18, 1964
Bettmann / Getty Images

Benson added that Ali dissed the Beatles' music to their faces.

"He didn't particularly like their singing, and told them that," Benson said. "Afterward, John said to me, 'He made us look really [expletive] stupid, and it's your fault, Benson." The band didn't talk to him for three months after that.

Speaking to The Daily Beast in 2016, Benson explained that Lennon actually wanted to meet Liston, who was the World Heavyweight Champion at the time. But, Liston turned the Beatles down, saying "I don't want to meet those bums," per the photographer. So, he took them to meet Ali instead.

"Clay completely overwhelmed The Beatles, shouting, 'Who's the Greatest? I'm the Greatest. You're pretty, but I'm prettier,'" Benson said of Ali, who was still using the name Cassius Clay at the time. "He made them lie down, stand up, run around the ring. They had never taken a backseat before," Benson continued. "John was angry and told me I had made a fool of them. He wouldn't speak to me for a month. But when I returned to London to photograph them on the set of A Hard Day's Night, all was forgotten."

As Page Six notes, McCartney spoke highly of Ali after his passing in 2016. "I loved that man," McCartney shared in a statement on his website. "He was great from the first day we met him in Miami, and on the numerous occasions when I ran into him over the years. Besides being the greatest boxer, he was a beautiful, gentle man with a great sense of humour…"

Ringo Starr, the other surviving Beatle, also remembered the meeting—and a photo in which Ali is holding him—upon Ali's death. "I don't know why, he just picked me up!" the drummer told Rolling Stone. "It wasn't like, 'OK, pick him up now!' He just suddenly did … [H]e just grabbed me and lifted me up! What was I gonna say? 'Hey, come outside…'" He added, "He was powerful. He was just physically and spiritually powerful. He was just great. He's a huge loss."

Starr's song "I'm the Greatest," written by Lennon, was released in 1973. It takes its title from Ali's famous catchphrase.

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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