Review of THE MURDER OF SONNY LISTON – LAS VEGAS, HEROIN, AND HEAVYWEIGHTS

51bofhrqv6l-_sy346_THE MURDER OF SONNY LISTON – LAS VEGAS, HEROIN, AND HEAVYWEIGHTS
Shaun Assael
2016
Blue Rider Press

I’m gonna chew the scenery on this one. I can’t help it. Sonny Liston has been an obsession of mine since I first heard his name about 16 years ago. I can’t remember if it was by way of James Ellroy or Nick Tosches. Either way, that name imprinted itself on my brain. How could it not? Say it out loud….Sonny Liston. Yeah, you feel it too.

Shaun Assael has written the book I’ve been waiting for since I first heard Liston’s name.

Sonny Liston was an African American heavyweight boxer. True birthdate unknown. Died December 30, 1970, supposedly of a heroin overdose. That last part you can debate all day.c827275e19c8eac5cc2de2f6882c52f2

Liston was scary. America was not prepared for a man, let alone a fighter, like him. He gave no fucks. Didn’t care about civil rights, Vietnam, or anything else. He was bought and paid for by the mob. Everything in his life was shrouded by mystery some of which was his own creation.

By the late 60s, Liston was going down. The two Ali fights- maybe he threw them, maybe Ali really kicked his ass. Anyway, Liston was in Vegas. He was cashing in on his fearsome reputation by selling drugs and collecting debts. Las Vegas circa 1969-1971 was not a happy place. It was drowning in heroin, crooked cops and racism. Sonny Liston was like the Exxon Valdez. Look that up if you don’t get the reference.

Assael’s book is a masterpiece of research. He took all the known facts and dug up unknown facts. This is the first book where you can sort of understand who Liston was and the world he inhabited. One thing that shocked me was, at times, Liston was almost like a bit player in his own life. Some of the people in Liston’s world were worthy of books of their own. Assael’s book will hook you in and leave you wanting more.

Dave Wahlman