Muhammad Ali, Howard Bingham, Greg Gorman, The White House, and Govinda Gallery: Round I

by Chris Murray on June 14, 2016

Ali_BinghamLewiston, Maine, 1965. After knocking out Sunny Liston. © Howard Bingham

I was a steadfast fan and very blessed to also be a friend of Muhammad Ali. I was fortunate to share a number of pastimes with Ali but it all began for me with Ali’s best friend for life photographer Howard Bingham.

One day in 1993 I received a call from Michael Stevens who was assisting his father, George Stevens, in producing “The National Sports Award,” to be held at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. I had met Michael Stevens through my friend Anthony Shriver. Michael told me that Muhammad Ali, Wilma Rudolph, Arnold Palmer, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, and Ted Williams were going to be honored at a series of events concluding with a gala show and presentation at the Kennedy Center.

The producers wanted to have portraits made of each of the honorees and asked if I could help. I called photographer extraordinaire Greg Gorman in Los Angeles and asked him if he would be interested in making portraits of the honorees. Greg had recently had a number of exhibitions at Govinda Gallery where we also launched a couple of his books. As a thank-you, Greg, myself, and his assistants would be invited to attend a dinner on the Mall the night before, a lunch at the White House with President and Mrs. Clinton and the honorees and special guests, as well as the show and awards at the Kennedy Center later that evening.

Greg agreed and flew out to Washington with his assistant Kevin Lynch as well as a stylist and makeup person.

It was June 19 when we set up a studio for the portrait sessions in the ballroom of the Mayflower Hotel where everyone was staying. It was amazing to meet Arnold Palmer, a great gentleman, along with the legendary Olympian Wilma Rudolph who was one of the most charming and gracious women I have ever met. When Muhammad Ali came to the makeshift studio for his portrait it was a thrilling moment. Suddenly I was shaking hands and smiling with someone I had loved and admired so much and for so long.

img065The makeshift studio in the ballroom of the Mayflower Hotel with Greg Gorman’s assistant Kevin Lynch ready to work. © Greg Gorman/Govinda Gallery Archive.
chris-palmerGovinda Gallery director Chris Murray with Arnold Palmer. © Greg Gorman/Govinda Gallery Archive

Ali was accompanied by Howard Bingham who’s book of photographs “Muhammad Ali: A Thirty-Year Journey” was being published. I could see why Bingham was Ali’s best friend. He was upbeat, quick to smile, and had a twinkle in his eye. I invited Bingham to have an exhibition and book signing at Govinda Gallery and to present it as the gallery’s 20th anniversary exhibition. He agreed and I was delighted to be able to look forward to present such a remarkable collection of photographs while honoring a longtime hero, Muhammad Ali, and to celebrate my gallery’s 20th anniversary all at the same time.
howard-bingham-ali-vaultleadHoward Bingham and Muhammad Ali © Neil Leifer

Here are some pictures from the party on the mall that evening, and the White House lunch the next day which was June 20, 1993. Greg Gorman and I were each invited to bring one guest and I brought my 10-year-old son David. It was Father’s Day and he was the only kid there and received a lot of attention from Ali and President and Mrs. Clinton!

img066Anthony Shriver and Chris Murray, June 19, 1993 © Govinda Gallery Archive

img067Muhammad Ali entertaining Kevin Lynch and Greg Gorman with some magic at the dinner on the Mall. June 19, 1993 © Govinda Gallery Archive

img068Ali with Chris Murray and artist Carlotta Hester © Govinda Gallery Archive

img069The National Sports Awards trophies © Govinda Gallery Archive

img070President Clinton introducing the National Sports Awards honorees at the White House June 20, 1993 © Govinda Gallery Archive

img071Muhammad Ali with photographer Greg Gorman © Govinda Gallery Archive

img072Alonzo Mourning, Wilma Rudolph, and Dikembe Mutombo © Govinda Gallery Archive

img073Ali with photographer Kevin Lynch © Govinda Gallery Archive

img076Bruce Hornsby and his wife Kathy © Govinda Gallery Archive

img075Joe Fraizer and the Marine Corps Band at the White House. © Govinda Gallery Archive

img074The beautiful Wilma Rudolph with Greg Gorman © Govinda Gallery Archive

img065Chris Murray and David Murray relaxing in the White House library on Father’s Day. © Govinda Gallery Archive

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