On December 30th, 1970, at the age of 38, former heavyweight champion Sonny Liston died from what Las Vegas police suspected was a heroin overdose.
When police arrived, they found a one-ounce balloon on Sonny's nightstand but the coroner quickly labelled Sonny's passing as death by natural causes. To this day, Liston's death hovers over Las Vegas and the sports world, leaving unanswered questions about his ties to powerful boxing promoters, billionaire hoteliers, mob kingpins and shadowy drug lords.
Reviving boxing's most infamous cold case to work out what really happened on that night in December over forty years ago, Shaun Assael examines the last mysterious year of Liston's life against the backdrop of a pivotal year in the history of Las Vegas. 1970 was the year that the mob turned a sleepy desert oasis into a cathedral of corporate gambling. Glittering new towers were rising along the strip, while race riots were devastating the black community, creating two very different cities for Sonny Liston to disappear into.
With key aspects of Liston's life previously ignored or glossed over, Assael takes a fresh look at Liston's complicated life, getting to the bottom of one of America's most enduring mysteries, while painting a stunning portrait of mob-run Las Vegas in the 1970s.
About the Author
Shaun Assael, who has been with ESPN The Magazine since its launch in 1996, is a member of ESPN's investigations unit and a regular contributor to the prime-time show E:60. He is also the author of three books: Wide Open: Days and Nights on the NASCAR Tour; Sex, Lies, and Headlocks, which was a New York Times bestseller; and Steroid Nation.
Readers of James Ellroy's Underworld USA Trilogy will feel very much at home. * Dan Jones, Sunday Times * The Murder of Sonny Liston is a classic of the genre . . . The cast of characters in these pages is a casino-packed assembly of the showbiz stars of a neon era who performed on that fabled Strip, heroes of the prize-ring, shadowy figures of a Mafia underworld, money-grubbing hangers-on, showgirls, straight and crooked cops. * Jeff Powell, Daily Mail * Writing with the flair of a mystery writer and the attention to detail of an investigative journalist . . . Assael dissects the suspicious death of former heavyweight boxing champion Sonny Liston . . . The engrossing depiction of Sin City's corrupt cops, malevolent mobsters, and drug dens follows in the footsteps of Nick Tosches's The Devil and Sonny Liston . . . Assael's journey into the seedy underworld of the Las Vegas's past is worth the ride. * Publishers Weekly * Shaun Assael delves into Las Vegas at the turn of the '70s and uncovers a thrilling mystery. Leave it to Sonny Liston to emerge as its larger-than-life anti-hero. * Nicholas Pileggi * Mobsters, casino moguls, degenerate gamblers, junkies, strung out fighters, drug dealers, crooked cops and coke-head judges all play a role in The Murder of Sonny Liston. Shaun Assael has delved deeper into Liston's mysterious death than anybody and come up with sensational results. Investigative reporting at its finest. * Nigel Collins, Former editor-in-chief, The Ring Magazine * As tough and pounding as its subject, this is the send-off Sonny Liston deserved. Only read it if you're interested in crime, Vegas, and boxing, or the complications of being human. * Robert Lipsyte, author of The Contender and An Accidental Sportswriter * Drugs, booze, gambling, fixed fights. Casino moguls, crooked cops, mob bosses. The Murder of Sonny Liston has it all. Investigative reporter Shaun Assael's account of the death and life of one of boxing's biggest and saddest characters crackles with drama, tension, and suspense. It's part The Wire, part Chinatown, part The Professional-but unlike those works of fiction, all remarkably true. Stefan Fatsis, author of Word Freak and A Few Seconds of Panic * Stefan Fatsis, author of Word Freak and A Few Seconds of Panic * Assael, a member of ESPN's investigations unit, is typically thorough in his research and approach yet manages to balance a meticulous attention to detail with a consideration for his audience, which is to say he never loses sight of the need to tell a story. The narrative is fluid and engaging, while the Las Vegas backdrop, arguably as important a character as any human being featured, is as alluring on the page as it is when witnessed in person. * Elliot Worsell Boxing News *