Gene Kilroy was part of Muhammad Ali's inner circle.

Muhammad Ali's business manager Gene Kilroy saddened by his death

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Muhammad Ali's business manager Gene Kilroy has spoken of the sadness he felt at learning of his great friend's death.

He also revealed what an "honour" it was to grow so close to the fighter widely considered the greatest heavyweight in history.

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Tributes have poured in from around the world since it was confirmed by family spokesman Bob Gunnell that 'The Greatest' died aged 74 in Phoenix, Arizona, on Friday evening local time.

He had been admitted to hospital earlier in the week with a respiratory condition, having suffered with Parkinson's disease for 32 years.

Kilroy had long retained a close friendship with Ali, and is the sole survivor of the inner circle that once included trainer Angelo Dundee, cornerman Drew "Bundini" Brown and assistant Walter Youngblood, later known as Wali Muhammad.

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While Ali fought, Kilroy - once known as the Facilitator - was responsible for overseeing and organising his training camps.

He is also credited with being the first man in the ring when the heavyweight memorably stopped George Foreman in 1974's Rumble in the Jungle, having first met him at the 1960 Olympics in Rome where Ali won his gold medal.

"His daughter May May (Maryum) sent me a text and said 'My dad's at peace, no more pain'," Kilroy, who also carried the coffin for Ali's mother Odessa Clay, told Press Association Sport.

"It's sad when you lose your best friend. We were so close for so many years.

"His mother told me one time, 'We're born to leave the world better than we found it', so he contributed a lot more by making this a better place with his charitable work. He put everybody above himself.

"So many people looked up to him, not only for boxing but the story of (his) life.

"Deep down he was a shy, sensitive, humble guy, all that other stuff was for the cameras: moving around, calling fighters names.

"It's one of the biggest blessings of my life, to be together (with him). I remember one time in a training camp, a little boy said, 'Do you know how lucky you are? I have to go home and you can stay here'.

"That about summed it up: being there with him."

It was at the Stade du 20 Mai, Zaire - today known as DR Congo - that Ali fought Foreman to reclaim the heavyweight title having had it stripped from him seven years earlier for refusing to join the US army's war effort in Vietnam.

He was also rebuilding his career having lost his boxing license for close to four years.

Ali's exceptionally high profile ensured that episode was widely known, but Kilroy insists there are numerous others that few have been told that demonstrate much about the man he knew.

"When he was fighting in Zaire, right before the fight, we were discussing that there was maybe 5,000 people outside the stadium who couldn't get in: they didn't have the money," said Kilroy.

"They were just hanging around. He asked me to go and get the assistant to (President) Mobutu (Sese Seko), and I brought him back into the dressing room.

"They were taping Ali's hands to get the gloves on, and he told the guy, 'You can't sell any more tickets, the fight's going to be starting in 15 minutes. Let those people in, or I'm not fighting'.

"The guy looked at him, said, 'We'll let them in', and all those poor people came in to see the fight."

Ali's condition gradually declined following his diagnosis with Parkinson's, which came shortly after his retirement in 1981. This was seen when he lit the torch at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and more recently when contributing to the opening ceremony at London 2012.

"No more pain," said Kilroy. "He's at peace, and he's with God. It's a good feeling, but we're going to miss him.

"There's an old Chinese proverb that said, 'You're never dead, as long as you're remembered'. He'll be remembered years and years from now.

"I'm honoured that he allowed me to be his friend. Him being my friend: it's a great honour."

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