Will Smith pays respect to Muhammad Ali: 'You changed my life'

Muhammad Ali Remembered with Touching Tributes from Celebs: Floyd Mayweather, Mike Tyson & More


Will Smith played Muhammad Ali in the boxer's eponymous biopic, and now 15 years later, he's paying tribute to the late legend.

The 47-year-old actor took to Facebook on Saturday, sharing two photos of himself with the venerated boxer, including one behind-the-scenes shot from the making of Ali, as well as a sweet message.

WATCH: Muhammad Ali Dead at 74

"You shook up the World!" he wrote. "My Mentor & My Friend. You changed my Life. Rest in Peace."

Last year, Smith honored Ali at Sports Illustrated's Sportsperson of the Year ceremony, where the Legacy Award was renamed the Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award. On stage, the Suicide Squad star recalled what it was like to play the three-time World Heavyweight Champion in the 2001 film.

See photos of Will Smith and Muhammad Ali together:

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Will Smith and Muhammad Ali together
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Will Smith pays respect to Muhammad Ali: 'You changed my life'
George Foreman (L) and Muhammad Ali(R) are greeted by actor Will Smith (C) after the movie 'When We Were Kings' won the Oscar for Best Documentry Feature during the 69th Academy Awards 24 March at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) Timothy A. Clary (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
17 Jun 2000: Former boxing great Muhammad Ali poses with actor and musical artist Will Smith before the start of the Oscar De La Hoya and Sugar Shane Mosley bout at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. DIGITAL IMAGE Mandatory Credit: Jed Jacobsohn/ALLSPORT
LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES: US former world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali (L) jokes with US actor Will Smith (R) who portrays him in new film 'Ali,' at the movie's premiere in Hollywood, CA, 12 December 2001. AFP PHOTO/Lucy NICHOLSON (Photo credit should read LUCY NICHOLSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Muhammad Ali accepting his Humanitarian Award from presenter Will Smith (Photo by M. Caulfield/WireImage)
Muhammad Ali accepting his Humanitarian Award from presenter Will Smith (Photo by M. Caulfield/WireImage)
MIAMI - DECEMBER 6: Boxing legend Muhammad Ali (L) stands with actor Will Smith at the Miami Art Basel Taschen book premiere of Ali's new book, 'GOAT - Greatest Of All Time' at the Miami Convention Center December 6, 2003 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Gregorio Binuya/Getty Images)
MIAMI - DECEMBER 6: Boxing legend Muhammad Ali (L) gestures behind the head of actor Will Smith at the Miami Art Basel Taschen book premiere of Ali's new book, 'GOAT - Greatest Of All Time' at the Miami Convention Center December 6, 2003 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Gregorio Binuya/Getty Images)
MIAMI - DECEMBER 6: Boxing legend Muhammad Ali (C) gestures behind the head of actor Will Smith (R) as singer Sean P. Diddy Combs looks on at the Miami Art Basel Taschen book premiere of Ali's new book, 'GOAT - Greatest Of All Time' at the Miami Convention Center December 6, 2003 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Gregorio Binuya/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS - MAY 01: Boxing legend Muhammad Ali talks with actor Will Smith before the start of the Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Shane Mosley welterweight fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 1, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali (L) hugs actor Will Smith before the start of the Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Shane Mosley welterweight fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 1, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali (L) talks with actor Will Smith before the start of the Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Shane Mosley welterweight fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 1, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Boxer Muhammad Ali (C) pretends to choke actor Will Smith (R) as singer P Diddy (L) looks on, at the launch of Tashens' new 75 pound book, 'Goat' (Greatest of all time), at the historic site of Ali's 1964 triumph over Sonny Liston, the Miami beach convention Center in Miami, Florida, December 6, 2003. The event is part of the Art Basel international art show week in south Florida. REUTERS/Marc Serota MS/HB
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"There's no doubt that he was a great boxer. He was the greatest of all time," Smith said. "When we think about the legacy of Muhammad Ali, what he did in the ring is not what we think about."

"For nearly two years, I worked to transform myself into the man who changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali and shook up the world, and that's really what makes my job so beautiful," he continued. "As an actor, for four or five months at a time, I get to wear people's lives, so I got to wear Muhammad Ali's greatness. I got to study and feel and embody the soul of the man from the foundations of Islam and the strength of his Muslim faith in his life to the beautiful wake that he always leaves in his magnificent path."

WATCH: Celebs and Athletes Mourn the Loss of Muhammad Ali

Ali followed a decade of the champion athlete's life starting in 1964, which included his heavyweight title fight against Sonny Liston and being banished from the sport following criticism of the Vietnam War. Smith's portrayal of Ali earned him his first Oscar nomination in 2002. As for Sports Illustrated, the magazine has also named Ali, whose nickname was "The Greatest," the Sportsman of the Century.

Ali died at the age of 74 on Friday following a 32-year battle with Parkinson's disease.

"The Ali family would like to thank everyone for their thoughts, prayers, and support and asks for privacy at this time," family spokesperson Bob Gunnell shared following news of the boxer's death.

See photos of Muhammad Ali through the years:

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Muhammad Ali through the years
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Will Smith pays respect to Muhammad Ali: 'You changed my life'
American boxer and sometime actor Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) as Eric Sevareid interviews him during an episode of the CBS Evening News, New York, March 24, 1964. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS - OCTOBER 2,1980: Muhammad Ali (L) throws a punch against Larry Holmes during the fight at Caesars Palace, on October 2,1980 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Larry Holmes won the WBC heavyweight title by a RTD 10. (Photo by: The Ring Magazine/Getty Images)
JUL 14 1981; Ali, Muhammad (Boxer) - Ind.; (Photo By Lyn Alweis/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
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A funeral will be held at the KFC YUM! Center in Ali's hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, on June 10. There will also be a procession held throughout the city that same morning in order for mourners to pay their final respects, according to a statement from the family.

NEWS: President Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton Pen Touching Tributes to Muhammad Ali

ET has reached out to Smith's reps.

It's been a difficult few months for Smith, who also paid tribute to Prince after learning the late singer had died on April 21. "I am stunned and heartbroken," he wrote on Facebook. "I just spoke with him last night."

Find out more in the video below.

Will Smith 'Stunned' over Prince's Death: 'I Spoke with Him Last Night'


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