EXCLUSIVE: Muhammad Ali's Daughter Laila Says Will Smith's Portrayal of Her Father Was 'Phenomenal'
By Jackie Willis
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Ahead of Muhammad Ali's funeral on Friday, ET's Nischelle Turner spoke with his daughter, Laila Ali, about the legacy her father left behind and the relationship he had with Will Smith, who portrayed him in the 2001 biopic, Ali.
The movie will return to theaters following the death of the sports legend, and Smith -- who was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Ali -- is serving as a pallbearer at his funeral service. "He appreciated the great job that Will Smith did playing him. My father appreciates the role that Will Smith played," Laila said. "I thought that he did a phenomenal job as an actor. I was surprised that he did so well, 'cause that's my father. And for moments, I was watching, I really got into it, you know? You forget that it's Will Smith, so that's a great job as an actor."
Laila told ET that she felt it was "very special" that Smith would be a pallbearer at her dad's funeral service. "My father had a big impact on his life," she said. "He did a tremendous job playing that role, and he will forever be associated with my father, because as an actor, that's kind of a spiritual thing, playing Muhammad Ali -- and being able to do it so well. Channel that energy that he needed to bring to that role."
Ali's 38-year-old daughter added that she's thrilled that the movie is being released again. "I'm happy that they're going to be showing that movie again for anyone who didn't see it the first time," she shared. "I think the story of Muhammad Ali is something that everyone should hear. This generation now, they don't really know who he is, and why he's so loved."
As Laila -- who was a boxer like her dad -- prepared to lay her father to rest, she said being Ali's daughter was like being "touched by an angel."
"I know that my father and I had a special connection. We all had a connection with our father, but mine, unlike any other, because we both did the same thing. We've both been hit upside the head, and hit some people upside the head, and it's a whole different thing," she explained. "We've bumped heads over the years. But at the same time, we had so much respect for one another, and like I said, that's something I'll cherish and always respect with my father."
Laila said that she sees a lot of her father in herself, but she has her own path. "I've already taken on a lot of his same characteristics and things, and values, and morals," she shared. "All of my life, as a public person, I'm not gonna try to be my father. I'm not gonna do the rope-a-dope. I'm not gonna do all that. I'm gonna live my life, do what I want to do, just as he did."
Ali's daughter also had a message for her father's fans and supporters. "I just want to say that, on behalf of my family, we appreciate all of the love and support and condolences that everybody's been sending, and we're OK," she said. "We're holding up. We want everyone to have a positive vibe. We're gonna miss him, but, you know, it's time. It's time to say goodbye."