Cassius Marcellus Clay (November 11, 1912 – February 8, 1990) was an American painter and musician. He was the father of three-time World Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali and Rahman Ali, and the paternal grandfather of Laila Ali. He married Odessa Lee O'Grady in 1934 and worked as a painter. He was described as "a handsome, mercurial, noisy, combative failed dreamer" and a "hard-drinking, skirt-chasing dandy of a daddy". His son Muhammad Ali described him as "the fanciest dancer in Louisville".
Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr.
Cassius Marcellus Clay
November 11, 1912
|Died||February 8, 1990 (aged 77)|
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
Clay was born in Jefferson County, Kentucky, the son of Herman H. Clay (March 1876 – February 1, 1954) and Edith E. Greathouse (December 1889 – December 30, 1972). He was named in honor of the 19th-century Republican politician and staunch abolitionist Cassius Marcellus Clay. He had a sister and four brothers, including Nathaniel Clay. Clay's paternal grandparents were John Clay and Sallie Anne Clay. His sister Eva said that Sallie was a native of Madagascar. According to DNA research, Muhammad Ali's paternal grandmother was Archer Alexander's (1816–1880) great-granddaughter.
Clay painted billboards and signs. He also played the piano, took piano lessons and wrote music. Around 1933, he married Odessa Lee O'Grady. He was a heavy drinker, which led to legal entanglements for reckless driving, disorderly conduct, and assault and battery. When asked in 1970 why he had not become a Muslim as his son had done, he said: "my religion is my talent, that which supports me."
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But the Clays have been there for six generations—ever since their ancestors worked first as slaves, then as farm laborers on the plantation of Cassius Marcellus Clay, who was Lincoln's Minister to Russia.
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More than once Odessa Clay had her husband brought into court for roughing her up. Cassius Sr. was also arrested for reckless driving, disorderly conduct and assault and battery, always after he had been drinking.... [He] "isn't a criminal or even an evil man. He's just a frustrated little guy who can't drink. He never served any time and he never will."
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