Here's Who Inherited Muhammad Ali's Money After He Died

Muhammad Ali, heavyweight boxing champion, was always more than an athlete. He was a legend, a daring tactician and risk-taker in the ring and a crowing, rhyming, charming, sometimes bloviating, permanently public fixture of American popular culture. The self-crowned greatest of the great, Ali seemed to love bad press as much as adoration, and he often attracted both. He converted to the controversial Nation of Islam in 1964, an organization so notorious that even Martin Luther King Jr. criticized him for it, as the Los Angeles Sentinel recounts. Two years later he refused to fight in the Vietnam War, which he considered unjust; as a result, he was fined, sentenced to prison (though he didn't serve time as his case was appealed), and stripped of his boxing license and his title, just at the peak of his career (per The Atlantic). 

Ali's personal life crashed and soared in tandem. He married four times, twice in the 1960s. His first engagement lasted only a month, and the marriage itself only two years. He had nine children, according to Bustle. Nine kids may not be too many, if you have the money and space to raise them. But all of those heirs in an inheritance dispute is another story.

Contested inheritance

Ali suffered from Parkinson's disease, possibly provoked by decades of blows to the head. Various other illnesses followed, and in 2016 the great fighter succumbed to sepsis at his Arizona home, aged 74.

As the Daily Mail reported, rumors quickly spread that Ali's nine children were "at war" over his estate. None of the details of Ali's will are public, but it seems his estate was worth $80 million in total; each child was due to receive $6 million. But what about Ali's widow and legal executor, Lonnie Ali? According to the rumors, Lonnie received $12 million, allegedly enraging her stepchildren. (Per The Guardian, Lonnie Ali is the adoptive mother of one of the nine children; the rest were born during his previous marriages.) The rumors allege that the revelation of Lonnie's double share was the last straw for the already strained Ali clan, where old tensions between step-siblings have never slackened.

Mayrum Ali, the fighter's firstborn, disputes this. "My father raised me and my siblings to love each other and that is exactly who we are," she told the Mail. "We are not in any feuds with each other or with our stepmother."

A fraught family

There's no reason to doubt that Mayrum is right about her father teaching his children to love each other. But Muhammad Ali's family life was never tranquil. Even before his short, disastrous first marriage, Ali quarreled with his parents over his associations with the Nation of Islam. Nor have his relationships with his children always been peaceable. The most famous of these conflicts was with Laila (above, right), his youngest daughter. As she explained to WBUR, Laila first clashed with Muhammad over religion: "My father was not only disappointed when I told him that I didn't want to be Muslim. He was angry." Laila's own boxing career as a middleweight would also lead to strife, as he believed that women shouldn't box out of principle. Fortunately, when Laila won her first bout in 30 seconds by K.O., her father changed his mind, and came to watch as many of her fights as he could.

Ali's relationship with his son Muhammad Jr. did not resolve itself. Muhammad Jr. told the New York Post that his father was neglectful to the point of abuse, ignoring him, driving off without him, and leaving him to his grandparents to raise. Muhammad Jr. also pointed a finger at Lonnie. "He slipped out of my life the moment he got married to Lonnie," he told the Post. "The trips to see me stopped immediately."

Lonnie Ali

Lonnie Ali seems like a central character in the story of the Ali family, whether or not the rumors of her $12 million inheritance have any validity. Lonnie Ali is a relatively public figure, a kind of ambassador of her late husband's brand. Her biography, hosted by the website of the Michael J. Fox Foundation (an organization dedicated to Parkinson's research, patronized by the Ali family), reveals that Lonnie was born in Louisville, Kentucky. She was a childhood friend of her future husband, at one point living across the street from him. She earned a BA at Vanderbilt University in 1978. According to the New York Times' account of their marriage, she was 29 in 1986.

She was the champion's fourth wife; he already had nine children. None of this proved any obstacle. Lonnie even converted to Islam ahead of the marriage. In 1992, six years into their marriage, Lonnie became the de facto manager of GOAT, Inc., the company that licenses Ali's image. Eventually she rose to vice president, a position she held until 2006, when GOAT, Inc. was sold. Since 2006, she has managed her husband's philanthropic enterprises. Her relationship with Ali's various children remains, for the most part, a private affair.