Muhammad Ali's former brand maker takes on opera

Thu Nov 5, 2009 8:29pm EST
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By Mark Lamport-Stokes

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Anyone approaching Harlan Werner's multi-level Hollywood home during a weekday morning is likely to be greeted by the rousing sounds of a classically trained tenor exercising his unique voice.

This unexpected welcome to the leafy neighborhood provides a clear-cut clue that Werner, after two decades of working with boxing great Muhammad Ali, has embarked on a very different chapter in his life as a brand and image maker.

Werner, a long-haired Californian who would not look out of place strumming a bass guitar for a seventies-style rock group, first met Ali at the age of 18.

The pair struck up an immediate bond, and Werner launched a long business relationship with the three-time world heavyweight champion on a simple handshake.

"I can make you big again. I have a plan," Werner recalled of his surprisingly confident approach to the iconic Ali in 1986. Ali's immediate response was: "Kid, stick with me. I'll take care of you."

That handshake paved the way for Werner to handle Ali's life rights and marketing rights for the next 20 years while he also represented retired sporting greats such as baseball's Sandy Koufax and American footballers Joe Namath and Jim Brown.

Three years ago, however, the working relationship with Ali changed.

"In 2006, Muhammad Ali and his wife sold his life rights and marketing rights to another company and my role as agent changed," Werner told Reuters.   Continued...

<p>Argentine tenor Carlos De Antonis (R) practices, as his manager Harlan Werner watches, in Los Angeles October 29, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>