By Gregory Crofton
In the days of Charles “Sonny” Liston, who won the heavyweight championship in 1962, fights were regularly fixed. The mafia in the United States was powerful then, and Mr. Liston was known to be “mobbed up.”
But things didn’t start that way. Son of an Arkansas sharecropper, and the 24th of 25 children, Liston never learned to read or write. He was whipped by his father.
Liston eventually moved from the farm to St. Louis to be with his mother. There he found crime, robbing a gas station and a restaurant with a gun. He was arrested and sent to prison for five years. Prison is where Liston learned to box.
“Pariah: The Lives and Deaths of Sonny Liston,” a documentary that premiered on Showtime in November, was directed by Simon George, who mixes archival boxing clips, interviews with historians and journalists, and stylized recreations to showcase Sonny’s mysterious life.
And he does keep you engaged. The life of this heavyweight touches some of the darkest, most uniquely American corners of this country.