"He's done it with guts and grace, with his fists, and with his wits," Jackson said. "He's one of the groundbreaking figures of the generation that helped make the world a more open place when it comes to who we can love, where we can go and what we can do. Thank you, champ."
Wonder, who performed earlier in the day at Whitney Houston's funeral, performed "Keep Our Love Alive" and "Superstition." Rasheda Ali said Wonder was the performer her father was most looking forward to seeing.
Wonder wasn't the only performer.
Snoop Dogg sang a medley of his hits, John Legend, Kravitz, Slash, Kelly Rowland and Cee Lo Green all performed. LL Cool J rapped "Mama Said Knock You Out" as DJ Z-Trip span a remixed version of the song that included Ali audio, including his famous "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" quote.
Tennis great Andre Agassi said Ali has shown the world that each person has a duty — regardless of their occupation — to live for more than him or herself and help others.
"What he did with his platform was unparalleled and the impact he's had as a result, we still feel to this day, which is why we're all out here tonight," Agassi said. "We're grateful to what he's done. He's been a leader — we're also challenged and charged with a duty of figuring out a way to do more."
Ali has lived with Parkinson's disease for nearly 30 years, a degenerative brain condition that some doctors say can be brought on by punches to the head.
The gala raised funds for the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Ky., a cultural attraction that celebrates Ali's life and pushes educational goals on a wide range of topics for adults and children.
Larry Ruvo, chairman of the clinic's fundraising arm, Keep Memory Alive, said he's not sure whether the fundraiser will exceed its record of $27 million, but he hopes so.
The gala's auction includes some items that only an A-lister or others with incredibly deep pockets could possibly afford. The top item was Ali's gloves that he used to fight Floyd Patterson in 1965, a bout he won by knockout in the 12th round.
"If it's $100, great, $100,000 would be better," Larry King said in trying to drum up bids.
Magician David Copperfield auctioned off a four-night trip to his set of 11 private islands in the Bahamas for $300,000.
A fundraising concert featuring Kravitz, Green, guitarist Slash and others for the general public was planned in the same room Sunday night.
Boxing promoter Bob Arum said during a pre-gala reception Friday night attended by celebrities including Hopkins and Larry King that Ali will go down as one of the most important Americans in history.
"Without Muhammad Ali, there wouldn't have been an Obama," he said. "There wouldn't have been a mixed-race president."
ABC and ESPN plan to air the gala on Feb. 25.
Oskar Garcia can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia.
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