The professional boxer and activist died in june last year aged 74 after suffering from a respiratory illness, a condition that was complicated by Parkinson’s disease, but appeared on the popular TV chat show four times throughout his career.
Parkinson has now written a memoir about Ali, but has now explained just how frustrating it was to film with the heavyweight great.
Revealing why he chose to write a book about the late boxer, Parkinson told Express.co.uk: “Because he was truly remarkable. I’ve interviewed loads of men, but the most extraordinary was him. I did four and a half hours or more with him. We recorded four interviews. I didn’t get to know him at all. That’s what frustrated me. I got the caricature Ali that was presented.
“When he died his service was televised all over the globe and we spent a day doing interviews and all that sort of thing. At the end of it I just thought I didn’t know an awful lot about him. So I set about investigating what had become and what he was really like and what his family were like and all that.
“I’d done all that in research but he never allowed me to actually get near him with it. He’d always throw a smoke cloud. I mean I loved him but he frustrated me.”
He continued: “There were times if he was smaller than me I would have hit him, but I was wise to resist that temptation. He was racist. He said things to me that if you said today I think the police would be waiting at the door.”
Parkinson explained that the public should not judge Ali by today’s standards as what was acceptable to say at the time would no longer be deemed appropriate.
The 82-year-old broadcaster said: “The thing that became clear when we did the book was that there’s no way you could judge him from present day standards. I mean, he was a kid that was growing up in the deep south. There was daily abuse because he was black.
“One day he was walking down the road and saw the newspaper that reported how a boy of the same age had gone into a store to buy some items and cheekily winked at a white woman.
“That night the woman’s father and husband came to where the boy was staying and they wrapped him in barbed wire and shot him in the head.
“Ali’s father said to him ‘Well, he’s the same age as you are. That’s the reality of being black here. That’s what they think about black children’.”
He added: “From that point on, when you deal with a trauma at such a young age, you never forget it. In the end he managed to deny all that anger and become, towards the end, what he really was. A really nice man. He was a conflicted figure.”
Muhammad Ali: A Memoir by Sir Michael Parkinson is available now.