RIP Muhammad Ali.
Even as I write those words, I'm incredulous.
How can The Greatest be dead?
Wasn't Ali supposed to be immortal?
Didn't he always TELL us he was immortal?
I discovered the news at 6.30am in France when I turned on my laptop and Twitter was erupting with tributes from all over the world.
The instant global outpouring of grief and sadness said it all. This was a man who touched the very corners of our entire planet.
Of course, it wasn't really such a shock.
We knew he'd been ill for a long time, ravaged by a 32-year battle with Parkinson's disease, and that he was in the final fight of his life.
But that doesn't make the realization of his death any easier to digest.
Ali was the biggest star of my lifetime, perhaps any lifetime.
He shined brighter than any singer, dancer, TV host, politician or fellow sportsman.
Because Ali had it all: dazzling good looks, a magnificent athlete's body, unbelievable charm, fierce intelligence and the sparkling razor-sharp wit of a stand-up comedian.
But that's not why history will remember him.
The Olympic gold medalist holds the torch before lighting the Olympic Flame at the 1996 Atlanta games, already struggling with the disease
It will be for his deep abiding personal courage and for his burning desire to defy convention, to be different and to fight for what he believed in.
Nowhere was this more powerfully seen than when Ali refused to fight for his country in Vietnam.
Not because he was a coward. How could anyone who put their life on the line in a heavyweight boxing ring lack bravery?
No, he refused on a point of principle.
'The draft,' he said, 'is about white people sending black people to fight yellow people to protect the country they stole from red people.'
His stand encouraged Martin Luther King to lead a black revolt against the war. 'I ain't got no quarrel with them Vietcong,' added Ali. 'No Vietcong ever called me a n***er.'
He was given a three-year suspended sentence, banned from boxing for the same period and endured considerable vilification from fellow Americans.
But Ali took his case all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court and in 1971 his conviction was overturned, and his 'Conscientious Objector' actions grew to be seen as hugely admirable.
So much so that in later life, Ali he was sent by the President of the United States, to visit war-zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, where the soldiers greeted him like a great hero.
Ali was a trailblazer for African-Americans, especially after his conversion to Islam, directly and provocatively challenging whites in the U.S. to tackle the racism that so widely pervaded society in the '60s and '70s.
By sticking his neck so firmly on the line, at great risk to his career and indeed his life, Ali transcended sport and became a global civil rights icon.
It's hard to explain to my sports-mad young sons the sheer magnitude of Ali's stardom.
I remember as a kid crowding around our family television to watch his legendary fights with great foes like Joe Frazier and George Foreman.
I loved his pre-fight trash-talking as much as his brilliance in the ring.
Boxing, since it vanished from terrestrial to satellite and pay-per-view, has long since ceased to bring the world to a halt.
But back then, it did.
The big heavyweight fights were like lunar landings, everyone stopped to watch – from London to Paris, Africa to Australia.
Ali himself even used that same space analogy to explain his unique status.
'I am the astronaut of boxing,' he declared, 'Joe Louis and Dempsey were just jet pilots. I'm in a world of my own.'
Ali led his life on Planet Ali.
It was often a very chaotic life, particularly when it came to the many women who entered it.
And latterly, it became a very challenging one as the Parkinson's reduced him to a weak physical imitation of what he once was.
Ali and wife Lonnie, seen here in purple
But ultimately, it was a truly great life.
One that inspired and changed so many other lives.
I only met Ali once, nine years ago, but like everyone else who had that honor, I will never forget it.
I was with Jerry Springer, who'd spent part of our dinner in Beverly Hills that night telling me how Ali loved to watch his TV show.
'He likes all the fighting,' Jerry explained.
I could scarcely believe it. Literally.
Then, by an extraordinary coincidence, we bumped into Ali and his wife Lonnie when we got back to our hotel, the Beverly Wilshire.
This giant of a man, now very stooped in his posture, moved slowly from a limousine.
'Hi Jerry!' cried Lonnie, 'He's still watching the show!'
Ali and Jerry shook hands.
Then Jerry introduced me and I too got to shake the hand of The Greatest.
It was a huge hand. I can't even imagine what it must have felt like having one of them crash into your face.
Those wondrously dynamic eyes, still burning with vitality, pierced into mine and for a very brief few seconds I felt the extraordinary power of Ali's presence.
Just as extraordinary was the reaction of all the other people around us as Ali shuffled on through the hotel lobby.
Everybody stopped, and stared. Many slightly bowed their heads.
Some from pure shock, others from pure awe and respect.
Bellmen, the valet parking guys, the concierge team, the restaurant staff, other guests, a few fans – they all felt humbled at the sight of this great man.
And this was at a famous 5-star hotel in Hollywood, where celebrities are ten-a-dime.
Ali transcended fame. He was so famous even other hugely famous people wobbled like sycophantic jelly in his company.
He was, too, the people's champion. A man synonymous with shouting and then beating the odds.
Donald Trump once told me, when explaining his philosophy about life:
'You gotta win, that's what it's all about. You know, Muhammad Ali used to talk and talk, but he won. If you talk and talk but you lose, the act doesn't play.'
Even when Ali did occasionally lose, he used the experience to make himself greater.
'Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated,' he said, 'can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.'
Muhammad Ali wasn't perfect, though he might tell you he was.
He was a flawed human being, like all of us.
Where he was different was in his ability to rise above the fray of normality and consistently be exceptional.
Whether in the ring, or out of it.
He dared us all to to dream big, take risks and fight for what we believe in.
He danced like a butterfly, he stung like a bee, he WAS The Greatest, RIP Muhammad Ali.