Monday, May 25 marks the 50th anniversary of the Lewiston, Maine heavyweight rematch between Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali that ended with the famed “phantom punch” and fueled even more speculation the fix was in more than a year earlier in Miami when Liston lost his title to then-Cassius Clay.
Someone will write an anniversary piece suggesting that Liston conspired with my father, Ash Resnick, to throw the fights. And sports columnists will note that Liston died a suspicious death, discovered by his wife Geraldine in his Las Vegas home with a needle and heroin nearby.
Books have been written about Sonny’s life and death. HBO and Sports Illustrated collaborated on a documentary (check out the adorable five year-old at 20:15 in) which maligned my father and his friendship with Sonny. I first learned of the production from Lem Banker, a Las Vegas gambler who came to Las Vegas back in the 50s with my father from New York. While HBO interviewed Banker, his contribution ended up on the editing room floor.
I don’t know what Banker told HBO, but I do know he’s told others www.famousinterview.ca/interviews/lem_banker.htm (including me) that it was Mildred Stevenson, a housekeeper who worked for the Bankers and the Listons, who discovered Sonny’s lifeless body.
Banker told me Stevenson called and said she’d found Liston dead. Banker told her to leave. Neither called the police, but rather left Liston’s rotting corpse to be discovered by his wife and young son.
Why? And why didn’t Banker, now 88, reveal his involvement earlier? I asked him but he had no good answer.
Amazingly, he did admit to further attempting to obstruct the investigation of Sonny’s death. Banker says he eventually called the Clark County Coroner and asked that he protect Sonny’s image by not attributing his death to a drug overdose. Coroner Otto Ravenholt publicly disclosed the presence of a small amount of heroin in Liston’s system but not enough to kill him. The official report noted cardiac arrest.
I’m not a cop but it appears the presence of the housekeeper in Liston’s home before the “official” discovery of his body by Geraldine as well as Banker’s involvement render the investigations of Sonny’s death as well as the tomes written about it worthless, while adding only more mystery.