America at Night Files


FILE #38
Audio File: Richard Hirschfeld, Telephonically Impersonating Muhammad Ali, Pledges to Help George Bush in Presidential Campaign

I know Muhammad Ali very well. I've spent hours, days, nights, weeks, months, talking with him in all sorts of conditions. I know what his voice sounds like when he is wide awake and when he is sleepy, when he has taken his medicine and when he hasn't. And I know how he answers the phone. So when I first heard Dave Kindred's audio tape of what he told me was Richard Hirschfeld impersonating Ali throughout a 1988 telephone conversation with Kindred, I was shocked. I heard a phone ringing and ringing, and someone finally answering, whispery soft, in words made out of high tones and low tones, almost nothing in the midrange—only the hiss of air rushing across his vocal cords—and my first impression was that Kindred was wrong, and it actually was Ali speaking on the tape. But after a while I realized that it wasn’t Ali, though it was far and away the best Ali impression I’d ever heard. By the date of the conversation with Kindred, Hirschfeld had had dozens of hours of practice telephonically masquerading as Ali, calling senators, calling Vice President Bush, even leaving a message for President Reagan, while working his con. Hirschfeld had the voice down. The entire conversation runs for thirty-nine minutes, and my copy of the audio file is of poor quality. Below, you can listen to the first six minutes and forty-four seconds of the conversation. Because of file size constraints, I've cut the conversation off just after Hirschfeld asks, "What about the presidential thing? Are you gonna be involved in that too?" Hirschfeld, as Ali, says "Yes, I am." Kindred says, "In what way?" In the voice of Ali, Hirschfeld responds: "Well, it’s, it’s, I told George Bush if he needed me I’ll be there. I’m gonna help him." When I heard Hirschfeld speak these words—after discovering that Hirschfeld was in the middle of a merger between a company chaired by John Kerry's campaign treasurer and a Muslim Turk who was the target of a major government counterterrorism investigation—my blood ran cold.


click below to play MP3 file