President Marcos told Ali: "You have a beautiful wife." The champ replied, "No, Mr. President, your wife is more beautiful." When Khalilah saw footage of Ali and Porsche at the banquet, she was so livid that she — along with a "phalanx of Muslim bodyguards" — took the first available flight to Manila.
News accounts describe Khalilah flying into a rage after she stormed into the champ's hotel suite to confront him. She allegedly tore down drapes, smashed mirrors, and scratched Ali's face. She declined to describe in detail what happened behind those closed doors. "Oh, I'm saving that for my book," she says. "I just felt it was time to move on after that. I couldn't tolerate the foolishness I was going through. I had been utterly humiliated."
She filed for divorce on September 2, 1976, claiming desertion, adultery, and mental cruelty. A Chicago judge finalized the split 17 weeks later. Khalilah reportedly received $670,000 to be paid over five years, a home, and miscellaneous personal property. Ali also placed $1 million in a trust fund for their children. "The judge wanted to make him pay alimony for the rest of his life," Khalilah says. "I felt that was too much. I didn't want to depend on his alimony forever. I wanted us to move on. As long as the children were taken care of, that was more important."
One evening in 1982, 12-year-old Rasheda Ali settled into her seat beneath one of the massive, dazzling chandeliers inside Chicago's Drury Lane Theatre. Rasheda, her twin sister, and her other two siblings were in for a special treat. It was opening night of the four-week run of Neil Simon's Come Blow Your Horn, and the kids had front-row seats. An excited Rasheda squealed when she saw her mom strut onstage as Connie Dayton, the love interest of the play's main character, Buddy Baker, who was played by Demond Wilson (Lamont from TV's Sanford & Son). "It was such a magical experience," Rasheda, now 40, says of the performance. "To see my mom onstage was the most amazing thing. It was just so cool to see her succeed."
After her parents divorced, Rasheda, her sisters, and her brother went to live with Khalilah's parents in a seven-bedroom mansion in a small Chicago suburb. Khalilah had purchased it after selling the home she owned with Ali in 1978. By then, the champ had relocated to Los Angeles and married Porsche. Khalilah left the kids behind and took off for L.A. to pursue an acting career. She says Ali's divorce payments covered her living expenses and allowed her to travel around the country for speaking engagements and leisure. Khalilah also had a side gig selling photographs and paintings of famous people she met, which she claims netted her $300,000 from 1978 to 1982, the time she spent trying to make it in Hollywood.
She didn't get far. Khalilah had a small role in The China Syndrome. She met and befriended the film's marquee actors, Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas, on the set of the Oscar-nominated film. She says she also made appearances on The Jacksons, a variety show featuring Michael Jackson and his siblings.
"Personally, I felt an emptiness," Rasheda says. "I wanted desperately to live with my parents, so it was frustrating for me. But whatever resentment, I didn't show it. She was going through some hardships too."
By the mid-'80s, Khalilah returned to Chicago, where she remarried and was divorced three times. Khalilah was also finding herself frequently in court. According to records in Chicago, she was a plaintiff or defendant in ten lawsuits between 1986 and 2007. Insurance companies, banks, and the Illinois Department of Revenue won judgments against her for more than $56,000, and she sold her mansion. She declined to speak in detail about her litigation. "I just leave that stuff alone," she says. "I just don't discuss it."
A warm breeze cuts through the parking lot of a white, two-story apartment building with faded aqua trim at 85th Street and Harding Avenue in Miami Beach. Khalilah sits on a tan leather recliner in the one-bedroom unit of her neighbor, Jose, a middle-aged Hispanic man with receding black hair. Every morning, Khalilah visits Jose for a cup of coffee before catching the bus for work. "Jose has become a dear friend," she says. "He loves to entertain me and my other neighbor, Geneva."